SFPD struggles to solve violent crimes

The Associated Press
Monday May 20, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Police Department is struggling to solve violent crimes and ranks last among the nation’s 20 largest city’s in doing so, according to a study of crime statistics. 

From 1996 and 2000, the SFPD solved just 28 percent of the city’s rapes, murders, shootings and other violent crimes, a San Francisco Chronicle analysis published Sunday revealed. 

That is the lowest crime solution rate for that time period among the nation’s 20 largest cities. 

San Francisco has more resources and less crime than many other large cities, but police have only managed to solve half the city’s murders and less than a third of the rapes. 

Police Lt. Harry Hunter said for many violent crimes reported, an investigation might not get off the ground. 

“Unless we have a named suspect, we’re not going to assign the case,” Hunter said. “The solvability is too low.” 

Police Chief Fred Lau said he was unaware that police inspectors routinely declined to investigate violent crimes. 

“That’s not the proper attitude, that’s not the proper procedure,” Lau told the Chronicle. “If the victim or a witness takes the time to report a crime, and we encourage people to report crimes, then the police department should do everything it can to assist that person.” 

Narcotics detail supervisor Lt. Paul Chignell said stopping crimes before they occur is the department’s primary focus. 

“What we have done in the department over the last two years ... is engage in a broad series of innovative approaches to attacking violent crime. It is not just about clearing cases and assigning cases to an investigator,” Chignell said. 

One of those new approaches is bringing in known gang members in for meetings where they are warned by law enforcement officers to shape up and avoid committing crimes that might land them in prison. 

The Chronicle found that staff cuts, budget constraints and the lack of formal performance standards in the Inspectors Bureau were among the chief reasons for the department’s poor record on crime solving. 

Budget concerns mean inspectors often go without basic tools such as portable radios, cell phones and cars. 

It is hard for the department to determine where the weak links are. Inspectors are not evaluated on performance, but are instead only required to provide a monthly account of their activities, the newspaper’s research found. 

All of these shortcomings have led to a dismal display of crime solving. At no time in the past decade have San Francisco police solved or cleared more than 30 percent of the city’s violent crimes. 

Police Chief Lau said he is trying to coordinate better communications with other city departments to address the problem. 

“We have asked for on-call D.A.’s, we have been asking for on-call judges, we have been asking for night court, we have been asking for weekend court,” Lau said. “We need the whole criminal justice system to work together.” 

Other cities have fared better in solving violent crimes. 

Of California cities with populations of 200,000 or more, Anaheim tops the list with its police department solving 75 percent of violent crimes. San Diego is second best, solving 63 percent of its crimes, while San Jose ranks third with 61 percent of violent crimes cleared.