There’s a difference of opinions playing out in the press and on social media right now: Some citizens strongly believe that San Francisco has devolved into a ‘lawless city,’ while others say such claims are overblown and crime is actually at a historic low.
Our interactive burglary map may help explain that difference: It shows that burglary spikes during the pandemic varied dramatically by location, suggesting that different neighborhoods are having vastly different experiences with crime.
Here/Say Media obtained records of each reported burglary in San Francisco from the start of 2019 through May 2021. During that 29-month period, there were 15,789 burglaries reported to the San Francisco Police Department. Citywide, burglaries increased by 56% between mid-March 2020 and the end of May 2021, compared to the period of an equivalent length before COVID.
What’s more, Here/Say’s analysis by census tract shows just how uneven the burglary increases were. Residential neighborhoods like the Sunset, Richmond and Marina were the hardest hit, with increases as high as 500% in some census tracts. On the other hand, burglaries in downtown San Francisco increased only slightly, while burglaries in southeastern neighborhoods like Hunters Point actually decreased.
Click the map below or this link to see an interactive map of burglaries by census tract before and after COVID.
Joel Engardio, executive director of Stop Crime SF, a nonprofit organization that advocates for public safety, said the burglary data may help explain why some people feel unsafe even if total crime reports fell during the pandemic.
“We keep hearing overall crime is down, which is true,” Engardio said. “The overall numbers will be less during the year when all the tourists are gone and we don’t have 30,000 car break-ins. But those car break-ins turned into a spike in home break-ins, and that’s why people feel less safe. It doesn’t matter if overall crime is down when your home is being broken into. That’s super personal and scary.”
Andrew Young, a longtime San Francisco resident who lives in Cole Valley, posted recently to Nextdoor about how constant garage burglaries and car break-ins seem to be the new normal in the city. Within two days, over 150 people had commented on his post.
“Burglaries occur so regularly, we are going from anger to acceptance,” he said. “I don’t believe these nightly thefts of bikes or regular ransacking of larger stores like Walgreens or Targets is ‘how it’s always been’. We want to help ourselves and our City, but at some point, it seems like crime hits a level where the City needs to take meaningful action to curb it.”
Engardio said that Stop Crime SF’s member base has more than doubled during COVID as concerns about home burglaries and other crimes have come to the foreground.
Driving the increase in home burglaries has been a lack of tourists during COVID, according to law enforcement. There are usually around 30,000 car break-ins in San Francisco per year, many of which are tourist cars. With few visitors in town at the height of COVID restrictions, police say the burglars then turned to homes. As a result, more city residents may have been personally affected by crime, driving the feeling that crime has worsened.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin has said that San Francisco is not facing a crime wave. “We’ve seen a historic decline in crime in the City [during COVID],” he told an audience at Manny’s in the Mission District on July 8.
While Boudin acknowledged the increase in burglaries, he said burglary patterns are returning to normal: Indeed, as tourists return to San Francisco, auto thefts are rising. As for burglaries, data show more reported in the first half of 2021 than the same period in 2020. But in June they began to come down: SFPD documented 555 burglaries in June this year, compared to 665 in June last year. Yet with the delta variant fueling another COVID surge, the jury is out on how crime patterns will evolve in the second half of 2021.
Boudin said his office is working to combat property crimes by expanding victims services, and hiring more people to support victims of property theft.
Engardio of Stop Crime SF questioned whether crime reports accurately capture the true number of incidents, asserting that residents who are victimized repeatedly may give up on reporting the crimes.
“My car has been broken into and the windows smashed twice — and even I didn’t report the break-ins,” said Engardio. “It’s important that we all report every crime. The data is only as good as what gets reported.”
About the Data
Here/Say Media obtained a list of all 15,789 reported burglaries reported to the San Francisco Police Department from January 1, 2019 to May 31, 2021, the most recent data available in time for our analysis. We then used an online service to geocode and assign a 2010 San Francisco census tract to each burglary. Census tracts are small, relatively permanent subdivisions of a county and encompass about 4,000 residents. We then worked with a developer to create an interactive map showing how the face of burglaries changed during COVID, and which parts of the city were most impacted.
Anna Tong can be reached at [email protected]