In one particular pandemic silver lining, violent crimes have decreased during shelter-in-place compared to the same time last year, according to the Police Department’s crime statistics dashboard.
From March 1 through June 30, crime overall went down 27.7% compared to the same time period last year. During the period when shelter-in-place was fully in effect, March 17 through June 30, the decrease was even larger: 31.6%. Larceny theft and rapes saw the biggest drops, while robberies and assaults also decreased.
The dashboard shows homicides increased by 21.4% in San Francisco from March to June of this year compared to that time period in 2019, but the percentage is skewed by the small number of incidents: 14 last year and 17 this year.
The dashboard categorizes nonviolent crimes as burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson and larceny theft. Burglaries are defined by the FBI as unlawful entry to commit a felony or theft; larceny means the theft does not involve force or violence. Violent crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, assault and human trafficking-sex act. Robberies are larceny involving use or threat of force or violence.
Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a San Francisco police spokesman, said many of the recent trends can be attributed to people staying at home during the pandemic and having fewer opportunities to commit crimes.
Robberies and assaults, he said, likely decreased because fewer people are going out and many businesses have been closed. Fewer social interactions outside the house also could explain the decrease in sexual assaults.
Robert Weisberg, director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, said the most significant factor affecting crime during the pandemic is that people are home more.
“Violent crime tends to be the result of very hostile interactions among people, often among gangs and drug transactions,” he said. “There is less interaction in terms of people moving around the city and getting into trouble with one another.”
Big increases in some non-violent crimes
But some types of crime also increased, mostly non-violent offenses. Burglaries shot up the most at 53.6%, with 1,644 reported incidents last year and 2,526 this year. Arson went up 51.4% and motor vehicle thefts saw an overall increase of 27.7%.
Weisberg wasn’t surprised by the increase in motor vehicle thefts.
“Anything involving cars has always been an anomaly,” he said. “They are based on a network of thieves and chop shops that are pretty organized.”
Andraychak added that jail releases during the pandemic could be a factor in the rise of car thefts and break-ins.
“Due to COVID-19, many suspects in non-violent felonies such as auto theft and burglaries are not remaining in jail,” he said. “Prolific offenders who are not in custody may be accounting for some of the increases.”
He also noted a trend of residential garage break-ins to steal bicycles, which may account for some of the increase in burglaries.
Andraychak said commercial burglaries have increased in San Francisco during shelter-in-place as most businesses have been shuttered.
Weisberg thought that could explain the increase in overall burglaries.
“If people are breaking into stores, that would make sense,” he said. “I would be very surprised if home burglaries really went up. That would be very, very improbable.”
Trends within neighborhoods
The overall city trends seem to hold when the numbers are broken down by neighborhood during the March-June pandemic time frame, but the increases and decreases are more pronounced in some areas versus others:
Central District: In this area, which includes many of the city’s top tourist attractions, including Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and North Beach, larceny dropped 69.8%, from 2,741 crimes last year to 829 this year.
Tenderloin: Larceny also decreased 69.5% in this neighborhood, with 862 last year to just 263 this year. Burglaries increased by 53.6% and motor vehicle thefts were up 57.1%.
Park district: In this area, which includes the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury and the Castro, burglaries rose by 108.3%, with 84 last year and 175 this year. Larceny held steady at 485 last year and 482 this year, a slight drop of 0.6%.
Mission District: Burglaries in the Mission spiked 86.3% from 160 to 298, and rapes dropped 86.8%, from 38 reported last year to five this year.
Ingleside: This district encompasses San Francisco City College and many residential neighborhoods, including Mt. Davidson, Bernal Heights and Outer Mission. Motor vehicle thefts here shot up 94.6% from 147 recorded last year to 286 this year. Larceny decreased by only 6.5% with 588 incidents last year and 550 this year.
Richmond District: Arsons increased from one last year to 10 this year.
San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order went into effect March 17, and comparing March to April reveals the most significant decrease in robberies and larcenies. In June, as the city began reopening from some coronavirus restrictions, an uptick in robberies and a small increase in assaults occurred.
Also, as demonstrations against police brutality and racism took place across the Bay Area from late May to early June, some looting and arson incidents occurred. Data show a 35.2% rise in burglaries for the May 29 to June 14 period from the previous 17-day period, from 389 to 526.
“The spike in burglaries between May 29 and June 14 appears to be related to the looting and commercial burglaries that took place during recent civil unrest,” Andraychak said.
During that period robberies also rose to 104 from 83 in the previous 17-day stretch, and assaults increased to 100 from 92. Larcenies fell to 822 from 947.
At the start of the pandemic, experts had expressed fear that problems that typically occur inside the home — such as child abuse, battery and domestic violence — could increase.
Domestic violence still a concern
Domestic violence incidents are not a category in the dashboard, but from the beginning of the year through June 30, Andraychak said, the department has seen a decrease in those incidents. However, he said that drop could reflect a decrease in reporting rather than a drop in the actual number of incidents.
“One factor that may account for this is the inability of victims to leave their residence to report abuse,” he said. “The SFPD Special Victims Unit has maintained staffing and services since the implementation of the shelter-in-place orders.”
Andraychak said domestic violence shelters have remained open and have accepted clients during the pandemic. San Francisco police can request emergency protective orders, and victims are still able to file restraining orders.
In April, the city implemented the “Text to 911” program so individuals who are unable to make a voice call can report a crime.
To safely and efficiently text 911, mobile users are advised to keep the first text short, include the location of the emergency and say whether police, fire or medical assistance is needed. When a dispatcher responds, answer their questions with short, simple replies and follow their instructions.
Kellie Hwang is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org