By Linh Nguyen
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – According to data from the FBI Uniform Crime Report, arrest rates have generally been declining since the 1990s and even more so after many cities and states have tried to change their approach to policing in response to the George Floyd protests in 2020.
This falls under the logic that making fewer arrests for low-level offenses (offenses not involving people), and focusing on sex offenses, weapon offenses or serious property and financial crimes, would reduce the number of potentially violent encounters between the police and the public.
The data shows that arrests for low-level offenses declined by 38 percent between 2013 and 2019. Arrests for disorderly conduct, curfew and loitering violations, gambling, prostitution, drunkenness and liquor law violations fell by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, there were more arrests for motor vehicle theft, murder, aggravated assault and rape.
Policy changes enacted by city councils, local prosecutor’s offices and state legislatures also contributed to declines in low-level arrests.
In cities that reduced low-level arrests by 50 percent of more, like Milwaukee and Philadelphia, there were also larger reductions in police shootings. Interestingly, police shootings increased in Jacksonville, Florida, and Louisville, Kentucky, cities that make more low-level arrests.
Furthermore, reported crime fell in areas that reduced low-level arrests. According to a FiveThirtyEight article, “Consistent with recent research, cities that reduced low-level arrests did not experience an uptick in violent crime — or murder, specifically — compared to other cities during this period.
“Moreover, cities that made fewer arrests for low-level offenses did not see a substantial reduction in violent crime arrests, suggesting a more lenient approach to low-level offenses has not resulted in police being less responsive to serious public safety threats,” the piece noted.
While the rates of low-level arrests are dropping, they still consist of 55 percent of all arrests reported in the nation’s largest cities and 69 percent of all arrests nationwide as of 2019.
“In other words, there are still plenty of opportunities for cities to make fewer low-level arrests, which could help police shootings fall even further without compromising public safety,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, the author of the FiveThirtyEight article.
He added, “But unfortunately, the politics surrounding the increase in murder and violent crime in some of America’s cities could make it harder to pass these types of reforms, even though they’ve so far seemed effective.”
In San Francisco, District Attorney Chesa Boudin has worked to significantly reduce incarceration and crime rates since his inauguration in January 2020.
His office obtained funding to grow existing diversion programs, increased the number of people referred to restorative justice programs and launched a diversion program tailored to caregivers.
“I have been a big proponent for diversion programs that help address root causes of behavior to prevent recidivism and promote public safety. Our office’s focus is always on long term safety and decisions to refer are made individually in collaboration with clinicians and defense attorneys,” Boudin wrote to The Appeal in an email.
According to data from the Vera Institute of Justice, between February 2020 and February 2021, there was a 25 percent reduction in the jail population in San Francisco County.
According to data from the San Francisco Police Department, in 2020, crime was down 23 percent compared to 2019. Rape, robbery, assault, human trafficking and larceny theft decreased.
However, arson, motor vehicle theft, burglary and homicide increased. Furthermore, from Jan. 1 to March 14, 2021, there was a 29 percent decrease in overall crime compared to the same time period in 2020.
Boudin’s efforts to reduce arrests were heavily expanded at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 based on data that infection and death rates skyrocket in jails.
Boudin’s campaign promised to reduce the city’s reliance on incarceration and end cash bail.