After a prominent tech executive, Bob Lee, was killed in San Francisco on Tuesday morning, many across the city framed his death as a sign that violent crime is out of control. But The Standard’s review of local data shows that while violent crime has steadily climbed since historic lows during the Covid shutdowns, it’s still lower than before the pandemic.
The San Francisco Police Department recorded about 5,650 violent crime incidents from April 2022 through the end of March 2023. In the year leading up to March 2020, the eve of the pandemic, the department logged about 6,195 violent crime incidents, according to its public dataset.
Violent crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and human trafficking.
Even when the figures are adjusted for the city’s population drop in recent years, the latest violent crime rate per resident remains below the pre-pandemic equivalent.
There were 12 homicides in San Francisco through April 2, 2023, compared with 10 the previous year. However, homicides are not a good indication of crime trends in a city, said criminologist Ben Stickle of Middle Tennessee State University. They’re a rare crime and don’t tend to align with trends in other types of crimes, he explained.
Stickle cautioned against reading too broadly into the meaning of a single incident as an indication of a city’s police performance or crime rate. After all, the vast majority of police activity flies under the radar.
“And then it’s the 10% that’s bad or the 10% that’s good that gets all the public attention,” Stickle said.
Larceny theft —stealing property without threatening violence—is by far the most common crime. San Francisco's incident reports for larcenies spiked in 2021 as the city reopened, though rates have dipped in recent months.
Citywide crime data is useful for understanding broad trends, but the individual experiences of city residents inevitably vary widely. For example, far more violent crimes are reported in the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods than in other parts of the city. From the beginning of 2022 through April 4, 2023, there were 361 violent crime reports per 10,000 residents in the Tenderloin, more than triple the rate of many other city neighborhoods.
The Financial District and South Beach neighborhood, which includes the East Cut area where Lee’s fatal stabbing took place, has the third-highest violent crime rate in San Francisco, though its 190 incidents per 10,000 resident rate is nearly half of the Tenderloin rate. (Though many would consider the Financial District and South Beach neighborhoods distinct, the city groups them together in its crime data.)
Andrew Robinson, the executive director of the East Cut Community Benefit District, a neighborhood group that has a security firm patrol the area overnight, said the stabbing came as a shock. This part of the Rincon Hill area was rebranded as the East Cut in 2017.
“Both the reality and the feel of the neighborhood is the East Cut is very safe," Robinson said. "So the shock and the unease for people is pretty significant."
Michael Barba contributed additional reporting for this story.
Noah Baustin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org