SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Police Department is struggling to solve violent crimes, and ranks last among the nation's 20 largest cities in doing so, according to a study of crime statistics.
From 1996 to 2000, the department solved just 28% of the city's rapes, murders, shootings and other violent crimes, a San Francisco Chronicle analysis published Sunday found. That is the lowest crime-solution rate for that period among the nation's 20 largest cities.
San Francisco has more resources and less crime than many other large cities, but police have only managed to solve half the city's murders and less than a third of the rapes.
Lt. Harry Hunter said that for many violent crimes reported, an investigation might not get off the ground. "Unless we have a named suspect, we're not going to assign the case," he said. "The solvability is too low."
Police Chief Fred Lau said he was unaware that inspectors routinely declined to investigate violent crimes. "That's not the proper attitude, that's not the proper procedure," he said. "If the victim or a witness takes the time to report a crime, and we encourage people to report crimes, then the Police Department should do everything it can to assist that person."
Narcotics detail supervisor Lt. Paul Chignell said stopping crimes before they occur is the department's primary focus.
"What we have done in the department over the last two years ... is engage in a broad series of innovative approaches to attacking violent crime," he said. "It is not just about clearing cases and assigning cases to an investigator."
One of those new approaches is bringing in known gang members for meetings in which they are warned by law enforcement officers to shape up and avoid committing crimes that might land them in prison.
The Chronicle found that staff cuts, budget constraints and the lack of formal performance standards in the Inspectors Bureau were among the chief reasons for the department's poor record for solving crimes. Budget concerns mean inspectors often go without basic tools, such as cars, portable transceiver radios and cell phones.
It is hard for the department to determine where the weak links are. Inspectors are not evaluated on performance, but are instead only required to provide a monthly account of their activities, the newspaper's research found.
All of these shortcomings have led to a dismal display of crime-solving. At no time in the last decade have San Francisco police solved or cleared more than 30% of the city's violent crimes.
Chief Lau said he is trying to coordinate better communications with other city departments to address the problem.
"We have asked for on-call D.A.s, we have been asking for on-call judges, we have been asking for night court, we have been asking for weekend court," he said. "We need the whole criminal justice system to work together."
Other cities have fared better in solving violent crimes. Of California cities with populations of 200,000 or more, Anaheim tops the list with its Police Department solving 75% of violent crimes. San Diego is second best, solving 63% of its crimes, and San Jose is third, with 61% of its crimes cleared.