Police foot patrols help with crime drop in SF

Police Chief Greg Suhr, who was promoted last April, has embraced police foot patrols far more than his predecessors.

The Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Police Department this morning sent out a press release announcing a decrease in violent crime in 2011, citing a number of factors for the drop but failing to mention an important and once-controversial one: increased police foot patrols.

But Police Chief Greg Suhr told us that foot patrols are a big part of the community policing techniques – and “community policing” was indeed mentioned in the release – responsible for the drop.

“They’re big. When we talk about increasing community involvement, that definitely includes foot patrols,” Suhr told the Guardian, explaining his policy of having a visible police presence in high-crime corridors like mid-Market, 3rd and Palou streets, and parts of the Mission District. “People should always see a cop on foot or on a bike in some places.”

For a long time, the SFPD resisted getting cops out of their cars and onto the streets – even in the first couple years of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s tenure, when the city had almost twice the 50 murders it experienced each of the last two years -- until it became a pitched political battle in the city.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and other progressives on the Board of Supervisors and the Police Commission locked horns with Newsom and then-Police Chief Heather Fong over the issue in 2010. After Newsom vetoed legislation to require foot patrols, Mirkarimi and Sup. David Campos co-authored a ballot measure requiring them, Measure M, which was narrowly defeated after SFPD began to implement them on its own.

“I believe that any analysis will eventually show – and they should really do this study – that community policing and foot patrols have a lot to do with this drop,” Campos, a former Police Commissioner, told us. “Community policing and foot patrols are the most pro-active way to reduce crime in any given neighborhood.”

Suhr agrees, something that Campos recognizes and praises the new chief for, saying he’s much better than his predecessors on the issue. “Chief Suhr has been very supportive of community policing,” Campos said. “He’s been very good about working with us to make it happen.”

Suhr said that the department needs to have enough personnel in the stations to take calls, do investigations, and otherwise process information. “Everyone else should be on the street trying to get in front of this stuff,” he told us.

He does still defend the department’s opposition to Prop. M, noting that it would have micromanaged SFPD in a way that he didn’t think was appropriate. But he’s also a true believer in foot beats and other community policing techniques, and he said things are better today than “years ago, when there wasn’t as much open communication as there is now.”

As for the Mayor’s Office and its failure to give credit directly to foot patrols, Press Secretary Christine Falvey told us, “Foot Patrols, the Ambassador Program and other efforts are all critical pieces of Community Policing, which is referenced as part of the success we have seen in getting the crime rate down in San Francisco.”

Her office’s press release follows:

Year End Statistics Show Continued Historic Lows for Homicides & Violent Crime Rates Overall Since 1960s

San Francisco, CA— Today Mayor Edwin M. Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr released the year end crime statistics showing continued historic low crime trends for the City. Mayor Lee and Chief Suhr announced that 2011 violent crime rates in San Francisco are down 6 percent from last year.

“Violent crime in San Francisco remains at historic lows because of stronger community partnerships, targeted approaches to violent crime and aggressive crime prevention strategies,” said Mayor Lee. “Despite some tough economic times, Chief Suhr and the San Francisco Police Department are working to make our City the safest big city in the United States through the best use of 21st century technology, strategic deployment of police resources, the use of innovative crime fighting strategies and successful partnerships with our diverse communities and neighborhoods.”

Homicides were at their second lowest annual rate of any year in San Francisco since the 1960s again in 2011.

In 2011, total violent crime in San Francisco was down six percent from 2010 and shows a reduction of 18 percent compared to 2008:
·        Homicide showed no statistical change; there were 50 homicides in both 2011 and 2010;
·        Aggravated Assault is down nine percent in 2011 from 2010;
·        Robbery is down two percent in 2011 from 2010;
·        Rape is down 12 percent in 2011 from 2010; and
·        Burglary is down five percent in 2011 from 2010.

In 2011, total property crime in San Francisco was up three percent from 2010.

The SFPD continues to pursue innovative crime reduction strategies including a “task force style” response to all crimes of violence. Increased community policing efforts, improved approach in assisting those suffering from mental illness and those with limited English proficiency, town hall community meetings and the decentralization of traffic officers and Beach/Park Patrols for safer streets and neighborhoods are also critical to the reduction of crime in San Francisco. In addition, the formation of the new Special Victims Unit allows our City’s most vulnerable populations the compassion and consideration they deserve.

“The year end crime statistics are an indication to the people of San Francisco of how well the men and women of the San Francisco Police Department are serving this City,” said Chief Suhr. “Our goal is for San Francisco to be the safest big city in America, and the men and women of the SFPD in partnership with our communities are committed to this end. We will achieve this goal by reducing crime and the perception of crime through the use of innovative crime fighting strategies, accessing the best technology available, predictive policing, strategic planning, and working collaboratively with all those concerned. There is nothing we cannot achieve when we all work together for the common good.”