Cute and cuddly crime statistics

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By G.W. Schulz

Sorry to piss on everybody’s parade, but a slight drop in the homicide rate isn’t exactly an excuse to break out the coke and booze. Then again, it doesn’t take much to get the frat brothers in the mayor’s office amped up for a party. Bro.

With murders down slightly in 2006 compared to the previous year, Gavin Newsom is preparing for a walk down Divisadero with Police Chief Heather Fong, an area where cops say crime has dropped. The event surely will include a healthy dose of media coverage, and going into an election year, Newsom needs all the flashbulbs he can get. In 2004, he melodramatically proclaimed that voters should recall him if the homicide rate isn’t brought down, so technically, he’s safe for now.

But a buried paragraph in the Chronicle’s front-page story from today reveals a key facet of crime statistics that should be taken into account when considering street-level violence and its effect on a city.

“Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan said homicide numbers tell only part of the story in Richmond, where a total of 280 people were shot last year. ‘I don’t think just the homicide rate alone is the way to determine whether violence is up or down,’ Gagan said.”

They’re the walking wounded, those who have been shot but not killed, a largely untold story in San Francisco and the East Bay. There’s a Homicide Division in the San Francisco Police Department, but not a Non-Fatal Shooting Injury Division. If those figures were combined with the number of people killed in the city last year, a much more vivid portrait of carnage would surface, as the Guardian reported last month.

San Francisco General Hospital treated 294 gunshot victims in 2005, and this year it had treated 237 just by the end of September. While Oakland had 150 shooting deaths in 2006 -- alone a startling number -- that city’s Highland Hospital treated 310 nonfatal shooting injuries as of July 2006, and 339 total in 2005.

In addition, arrests for key violent crimes remain stubbornly low, and no arrests means no prosecutions. Kamala Harris can’t herself arrest murderers and gunslingers. Local police have managed between just 20 and 30 homicide arrests annually for the last 10 years, which means you have about a two-in-three chance of getting away with murder in this town. Weapons-related arrests in San Francisco dipped steadily for 10 years until they began climbing again in 2004.

On top of everything, the homicide rate was still higher in 2006 than at anytime between 1996 and 2003.

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition over the past year ran a series of stories about the current mayor of Newark, N.J. Cory Booker, who received degrees from both Oxford and Yale, lived in a Newark public-housing project for several years with no hot water and no heat before being elected. Now that’s motherfucking bold leadership.

Anyway, he's pretty good-looking, but apparently, he actually gets shit done, too. During the short period of time he’s been in office, crime has dropped month-by-month at times by double-digit percentage points in Newark. Some of his tactics would generally be regarded as unpopular here, but are being used by Newsom anyway, such as security cameras. Somehow, nonetheless, Booker's meeting with success. Newsom just doesn’t seem to have made murder and violence as much of a priority as Booker has. Booker, in fact, made reducing violence an immediate and major policy goal upon entering office.

Here’s what he told Morning Edition back in August about Newark’s battles with poverty and violence and its significant black population:

"Booker notes that while the black middle-class has grown since the 1960s, African-Americans living in poverty haven't seen much improvement in their lives. ‘We could all sit and talk about the historical causes for where we are, we can talk about the geopolitical causes, the massive shifts economically in our global economy. But, more productively, my question as the mayor of New Jersey's largest city and one of the majority African-American cities is, where do we go from here?’”

So don’t get too excited about slightly fewer homicides in San Francisco. Perhaps Newsom should make a call east for some advice and pack his bags for a move to the other side of town.

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