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Thursday, November 6, 2008

San Francisco Police Department Can't Stop Homicides

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2008 at 7:10 PM

By John Geluardi

The president of the San Francisco police union is claiming city cops have little or nothing to do with the city’s rising homicide rate. In fact, he says it’s everybody else’s fault.

It’s silly to expect police to have any impact on homicides whatsoever says Gary Delagnes, the president of the San Francisco police union. “Rather it is the rest of the criminal justice system that could be most effective in reducing the number of these crimes,” Delagnes writes in the November issue of the POA Journal. “The root cause of street-kill homicide in any major city is a lenient criminal justice system that won’t acknowledge its ineffectiveness.”

The outspoken Delagnes blames other city officials though he is coy about mentioning them by name. So, for example, Public Defender Jeff Adachi is referred to by title only: “When the city attorney attempts to enact “gang injunctions” against known killers and is thwarted by the Public Defender, as well as other community groups, how can the finger be pointed at them (sic) or us.”

Writing about the city’s low conviction rate, he not only didn’t mention District Attorney Kamala Harris’s name, he couldn't bring himself to mention her office, which is responsible for prosecuting suspected criminals. Note the passive construction and lack of a subject in the following sentence: “If every perpetrator of a lesser offense were more vigorously prosecuted and properly imprisoned instead of dealt a boilerplate offer and released on probation, one less petty criminal or adolescent thug would be free to roam our streets and degenerate into a heartless killer.”

While it’s certainly true that Harris’s office has one of the lowest conviction rates of any DA in recent memory, it might be sidestepping responsibility for Delegnes to describe the police department’s role as murder managers rather than a proactive force of prevention.

For example, Delagnes failed to mention that the San Francisco Police Department has one of the lowest homicide “clearance rates” of cities of the same size. By the way, a case is considered “cleared” when an arrest has been made, not when a suspect has be prosecuted and convicted. And SFPD’s clearance rate has been dropping in recent years. In 2002 the homicide detail cleared about 50 percent of its cases while the average for similar-sized cities was 61 percent. In 2007, when officially there were 98 homicides, the SFPD homicide detail clearance rate was 25 percent compared to a statewide average of 53 percent.

In 2002 the San Francisco Chronicle conducted a seven-month investigation which resulted in a three-part series that depicted a department with substandard violent crime investigations and a homicide detail hamstrung by lax policies, promotion standards that favored mediocrity, scant resources (homicide inspectors did not have city e-mail accounts or Internet access until just last year) and poor oversight that lacked any kind of peer review.

In any case, if it’s true the police department has no influence over the city’s homicide rate, as Delagnes claims, maybe that should be figured into the union contracts negotiations that the POA has been very effective at.

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John Geluardi


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