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No. 1 With a Bullitt 

San Francisco's murder rate is at its highest level in a decade. Whose fault is that?

Wednesday, Jan 4 2006
Over the Christmas weekend, when a man was shot and killed outside the Velvet Lounge in North Beach at about 2 a.m., San Francisco saw its 96th homicide of the year -- a 10-year high. Despite repeated pledges to crack down on gang violence, especially in the city's grittier neighborhoods, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief Heather Fong have been unable to stem the rising murder rate, and residents have been growing increasingly angry and fearful as their questions go unanswered at community meetings with police officials. Critics say the San Francisco Police Department needs to put more uniformed officers on the streets, and Supervisors Chris Daly and Tom Ammiano are suggesting the department's homicide unit should submit to a performance audit. Police officials, meanwhile, say that their hands are tied by City Hall restrictions, and that they are already working unprecedented levels of overtime to crack the mounting number of unsolved cases. Are you an apologist for San Francisco's homicide rate? Take our quiz and find out!

1) In a mid-December report to the Board of Supervisors, the SFPD said it had recorded 94 homicides to that point, but that 74 of the cases remained open, with no arrests made. About 20 percent of the homicides occurred at public housing projects, and 64 percent of victims during the past two years have been African-American -- both wildly disproportionate numbers, given the city's population demographics. What do all of these figures suggest to you?

A) That the SFPD is much better at math than at catching murderers.

B) That maybe, just maybe, the security surrounding San Francisco's public housing isn't quite up to utopian standards. Maybe.

C) That the fog is obscuring our Batman signal.

2) In a painful admission, Mayor Newsom told the Chronicle in early December that he could have done more to fight the rising murder rate, one of his priorities upon taking office: "I'm sure there are a thousand things. If I had not done a state of the city, if I didn't do digital media, if I didn't try to straighten the streets, I probably could have done more on crime. If I didn't try to deal with the health care crisis in the city, I probably could have done more on crime." What do you make of this statement?

A) You know, Mr. Mayor, if the State of the City address is gonna be that time-consuming, you could go ahead and skip it. Honest.

B) It's the rare crime-fighting mayor who can both condemn himself and recite his list of accomplishments in the same soundbite. Bravo.

C) Well, let's not get hysterical here, Gavin. Digital media and straight streets are important, too.

3) It's been five months since Newsom and Fong announced their "community policing" plan aimed at cutting down the homicide rate, but the proposal has yet to be implemented. The idea is that more officers should be patrolling the streets, dealing with routine problems such as broken windows, graffiti cleanup, and loitering, to increase visibility and discourage more serious crimes like homicide. Do you think the plan would work?

A) Wait a minute. Shouldn't the police be dealing with those things anyway?

B) Maybe ... but does this give the cops enough time to hassle the homeless?

C) Community policing? Is that at all like the "Citizens on Patrol" strategy so deftly examined in that classic of film, Police Academy 4? Because fighting crime was never funnier.

4) Greg Cabrera, who compiled a critical report in October for the Board of Supervisors on San Francisco's current community policing efforts, found that cops are too removed from their neighborhoods, isolated behind the windows of cruisers, and rarely interact with residents. As the legislative analyst told the Chronicle: "I would want to see more police officers on the street -- just walking by, connecting with the citizens, connecting with me, saying, 'How are you today?'" Would you want to see that?

A) Well, to be honest, I'd rather see the cops connecting with criminals and wondering what they're doing today. But maybe that's just me.

B) Sure. There's nothing the citizens of San Francisco enjoy more than being approached by a uniformed police officer for no good reason when they're walking down the street.

C) It depends. Can I play with their guns?

5) SFPD officials blame the delay in implementing the community policing plan on staffing shortages and political infighting with City Hall, which imposed a freeze on police promotions because the department went $8 million over budget. The department is 264 officers short of the voter-approved minimum of 1,971, and the inspectors bureau alone has almost 60 vacancies. Fong is pushing to hire 250 new cops over the next three years, but critics say the department should simply reassign some of its officers to more pressing areas. What do you think?

A) Hmm. Seems like they could maybe pull some of those cops off the Union Square beat ... then again, tourists do tend to get persnickety when that final PlayStation 2 sells out on Christmas Eve.

B) Reassign detectives? And let the Zodiac Killer just get away?!?

C) As long as there still aren't enough cops to solve home and auto burglaries. Because that's what San Francisco law enforcement means to me.

6) Supervisor Daly wants to establish a body called the Homicide Prevention Council, which would include 21 members of the public and have nonvoting seats assigned to city officials. The council would be responsible for drafting a plan to curb murders in San Francisco. What do you think of this idea?

A) Well, if history has taught us anything, it's that bureaucratic citizen panels are far more effective in fighting gangs than gun-toting cops.

B) Ooh, I wanna join! I wanna join! Do we get a badge?

C) I can hear the gangsters now: "Wanna cap his ass?" "No way, man! Not unless you want the Homicide Prevention Council after us!"

7) Many police officials blame the skyrocketing unsolved murder rate on a lack of reliable witnesses in crime-heavy neighborhoods, where police are distrusted and gang reprisals are feared. How do you think the SFPD can build a better relationship with the community and solve more crimes?

A) More racist videos would probably help.

B) Get a district attorney. (Bonus point for adding: "Oops, sorry, Kamala. Didn't see you there.")

C) Hmm ... is Sam Spade doing anything these days?

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: We know, we know. Not only is Oakland getting cooler than San Francisco again, it's actually getting safer.

7-10 points: Yes, I'm afraid homicides in Hunters Point and the Bayview District do count as murders in San Francisco. Nice try, though.

11-14 points: Congratulations, you are a true apologist for San Francisco's murder rate. And, no, Dirty Harry doesn't work here anymore.

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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