The numbers game

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By G.W. Schulz

The police department sent out a press release earlier today complaining about an Examiner article from last Friday highlighting the city's dismal homicide arrest rate. The department's press office wants you to know that the article appears to have relied exclusively on statistics from a state criminal justice Web site.

First of all, here’s what they had to say:

“The statistics as presented in the article did not include many homicide arrests. For example, they do not reflect the recently much publicized federal gang indictments for murder … The department does not believe the statistics as presented in the article were intentionally misleading, but we believe that it is important to provide accurate data to set the record straight. The department has asked the Examiner to correct these errors to ensure that the public’s perception of our efforts in violence reduction [are] not undermined.”

Well isn’t that sweet. The department just wants clean numbers. That’s all. The problem is, their numbers don’t inspire much faith.

The department says they had 29 arrests in 2001, not 21, like the Examiner reported. But San Francisco had 88 murders that year, which means homicide inspectors still couldn’t approach arrests in even half of them. In 2005, the department says it had 46 arrests, not 26. But the city hit 96 homicides that year, which means, again, inspectors couldn’t make arrests to cover half of them.

Did things improve in 2006, after which the mayor proudly proclaimed his public policy initiatives were improving safety in the city? Fuck no. While homicides dropped slightly, so did arrests, according to the department’s own numbers. The press release states that 36 arrests occurred compared with 85 murders.

While it’s important to note that an arrest for a murder can take place after the year in which it occurred, the consistently low arrest rates say a lot about street violence in San Francisco.

The press release’s timing couldn’t be any more hilarious considering today’s screaming banner headline on the cover of the Examiner noting the streak of recent slayings in the Haight. Four shootings have taken place there in the last month, three of which resulted in deaths. The Ex seems to have gotten those numbers right so far, but the police department's press office will probably let them, and the rest of us, know if they didn't.

Last night, a hundred or so people gathered at the First Friendship Church in the neighborhood to let the department know exactly how they felt.

From the Examiner:

"A sense that crime in the neighborhood is spiraling out of control appeared to pervade the church community room at Oak and Steiner streets. ‘I don’t care whose fault it is, just fix it,’ Gabe Colaluca implored.”

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