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The High Cost of Low-level Crime in San Francisco

San Francisco is the nation’s leader in property crime. Burglary, larceny, shoplifting, and vandalism are included under this ugly umbrella. The rate of car break-ins is particularly striking: in 2017 over 30,000 reports were filed, and the current average is 51 per day. Other low-level offenses, including drug dealing, street harassment, encampments, indecent exposure, public intoxication, simple assault, and disorderly conduct are also rampant.

Many in law enforcement blame the crime wave on Proposition 47, which in 2014 downgraded possession of illegal narcotics for personal use and theft of anything under $950 in value from felonies to misdemeanors. Anti-incarceration advocates disagree with that argument, but theft is indisputably booming, and narcotics activity is exploding on sidewalks, parks, and playgrounds. When compounded with other troubles for which the city is now infamous (human feces, filth, and homelessness, which is up 17 percent since 2017), San Franciscans find themselves surrounded by squalor and disorder. 

“A lot of people are ready to leave because the crimes are causing depression,” says Susan Dyer Reynolds, editor-in-chief of the Marina Times, an independent community newspaper. “Navigation centers” for the homeless, says Reynolds, “are not sober facilities, and people steal and break into cars to feed their habits. Crime will go up. We know this.”

Property and other supposedly low-level crimes are intensifying the destruction of the retail market. Landmark Mission District stores are shuttering, citing theft and lack of security. In April, CVS closed two pharmacies that had been ravaged by constant shoplifting. Mom-and-pop businesses, wracked by so-called minor losses, find it impossible to survive. Empty storefronts dot once-vibrant neighborhoods.

“Property and low-level crimes shrink the space for everyday people and enlarge them for the people committing them,” says Nancy Tung, a criminal prosecutor for two decades, who is running for district attorney in the 2019 election. “If we continue down this path, we will see more people leave San Francisco.” Tung will face a competitive field of opponents, including Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin, a socialist and the son of two convicted Weather Underground murderers, who wants to reduce criminal sentences. Keeping people out of jail is the new social-justice battle; in March, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that San Francisco’s bail policy violates the rights of poor defendants and brings no public benefit….. [  ]

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