Many media outlets and posters on social platforms have had a field day painting San Francisco as a Mad Max-style wasteland under siege by unprecedented levels of crime. But a year-end analysis of crime data by The Standard shows that narrative is spin, not substance.
San Francisco’s crime totals cratered in 2020 when the city hunkered down for the first waves of Covid. Since then, the number of crimes reported to police has steadily risen in the city. But despite that consistent climb, crime in San Francisco has not yet increased to pre-pandemic levels—with a few key exceptions.
It may be surprising that crime rates remain below pre-pandemic levels, especially given the regularity of well-publicized complaints of theft and other crimes, but it's long been true that the majority of Americans believe that crime is on the rise each year, even when it declines. In fact, crime rates in San Francisco have fallen tremendously since peaks in the 1990s, which mirrors trends in cities across the country. The city’s most recent crime spikes came in 2013 for violent crime and 2017 for property crime.
Larceny—stealing property without threatening violence—is by far the most common crime and drives the overall crime figures in the city. While larceny crimes have increased substantially since the respite residents enjoyed in 2020, theft remained shy of pre-pandemic totals through the end of November. And while it might feel like all of a sudden everyone in the city has a story about a broken car window and a snatched purse, police actually received more reports of theft from vehicles in 2019 than 2022.
During the most recent car break in peak, 2017, there were nearly 40% more incidents of theft from vehicles reported to SFPD through the end of November than in 2022.
This year saw some high-profile robberies that grabbed headlines, but robbery figures stayed lower in 2022 than in 2019, through the end of November. That continued dip has kept the city’s overall violent crime rate lower than pre-Covid totals.
Aggravated assaults, the other most common violent crime, increased slightly above 2019 totals. But while some horrible, and seemingly random, assaults might make it feel like 2022 was especially violent, SFPD logged more aggravated assault incidents in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Homicides are a rare crime and thus changes in the murder rate aren’t clearly visible in overall metrics. There were 51 homicides in the city through Nov. 30, 2022, one fewer than the total for the same period in 2021. San Francisco saw the lowest number of homicides through the end of November in 2019, when 34 were reported to police, and the most in 2017, when SFPD logged 56.
Burglary was one of the few crimes that spiked in 2020, and burglary figures have since come down. Meanwhile, auto theft—stealing the vehicle itself, not sawing off the catalytic converter or breaking in to snatch a bag—has been on the rise since 2018, and this year was no exception. Auto theft hit a seven-year high in 2022.
Analysts know crime data is a flawed metric since it only captures crimes that are reported to the police. Many aren’t. And while citywide crime data provides valuable insight into overall trends, the individual experiences of residents across the city inevitably vary immensely. For example, some crime has increased in wealthier neighborhoods, even as citywide figures drop.
There are already signs that SFPD ramped up enforcement once District Attorney Brooke Jenkins took office, though the vast majority of crimes still went unsolved in 2022. Whether those efforts, combined with increased patrols, will successfully plateau the city’s steady crime rate climb is yet to be seen.
Noah Baustin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org