The Atlantic Claims San Franciscans May Not Feel Safe and Secure, and Much of the Blame Centered on District Attorney Boudin – But Crime Data Creates Uncertainty

Chesa Boudin at an October Rally

By Alex Jimenez 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – With public perception of a “crime wave” in San Francisco becoming more evident, SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s job is in serious jeopardy in the upcoming June 7 Recall Election, according to Annie Lowery, a staff writer for The Atlantic.

She writes about some of the disconnect and frustration looming over the recall in her article “The People vs. Chesa Boudin,” addressing public perception on crime vs. what the data indicates both locally and nationally. 

​​“Practically everyone in this city has been a victim or knows a victim,” said San Francisco resident Richie Greenberg to Lowry. “People are sick and tired of the whole atmosphere of the city. It’s not fun to live here anymore.”

Greenberg described an incident where a woman he did not recognize stood in front of his door and waved a knife in the air. Greenberg made it back to his house unharmed before police arrived but this is the experience many San Franciscans face, claims Greenberg, who spearheaded an earlier recall.

Greenberg, before this recent recall, had tried to gather signatures to initiate a recall election and although he failed in that attempt, other activists were successful in initiating a recall election for June 7.  

With much of the local news constantly reporting on crime and with an extensive effort from the recall campaign, there is a good chance that Boudin’s term ends this June, claims the Atlantic, with Lowery’s article noting a recent poll finding that “a solid majority of registered voters support the recall,” with seven in 10 disapproving of the DA’s job performance. 

Crime in San Francisco “is a pressing issue,” Boudin tells Lowery. “It’s my priority. It’s my office’s priority. It’s the focus of every single policy that we put into place. We want to make San Francisco safer.” 

Lowery questions the larger implications of this election regarding other progressive prosecutors and if their policies makes crime more prevalent and if Boudin’s office can do much to reduce crime in San Francisco.  

“And it has raised the question of whether there’s actually a crime wave at all,” writes Lowery. 

A majority of the city’s residents in fact do believe that crime has gone up according to a recent poll from the local Chamber of Commerce.  “The results were consistent across gender, age, ethnicity, party affiliation, and neighborhood, and homeownership status,” the business group noted. 

This sentiment is shared locally and nationally as the share of Americans who believe that there is more crime has risen since the coronavirus virus pandemic hit. 

There appears to be some validity to this claim as homicides have increased nationally, rising from 5.1 per 100,000 people in 2019 to 6.5 per 100,000 people in 2020, according to government data. Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Louisville in particular  have exhibited major spikes. 

Overall, for crime violent and nonviolent crimes the evidence for a nationwide crime wave is harder to decipher if you look at nationwide data on crime, said the Atlantic. 

“Compared with 2019, reports of robberies were down nine percent in 2020, aggravated assaults were up 12 percent, burglaries were down seven percent, motor-vehicle thefts were up 12 percent, and incidents of rape were down 12 percent,” according to the Atlantic in viewing the data. 

“It’s sporadic as to which crime rates are increasing and decreasing, and which cities are going up, stable, or going down,” Alex Piquero, a criminologist at the University of Miami, told Lowery. 

Although homicide rates in San Francisco have jumped 37 percent from 2019 to 2021 the city has had 41 to 58 murders a year for the past decade with the exception in 2012 when SF saw 68 murders. 

Lowery notes that the city mirrors the rates of Omaha, Nebraska, and St. Paul, MN. Violent crimes in general have decreased since Boudin took office; however, according to the police department hate crimes against the cities Asian residents have soared. 

Property crimes have also seen an uptake as the pandemic has seemed to shift crimes of this nature from people getting robbed on the streets to having cars and apartments broken into. 

However, crime data both nationally and locally do come with a bit of uncertainty.

“We can tell you how many chickens were sold last week across the country,” Jennifer Doleac, an economist at Texas A&M University, told the Atlantic. “But we have no idea how many homicides there were.”

The data also doesn’t account for crimes that go unreported because of fear of immigration enforcement or believing that the hassle is not worth the trouble of a missing Amazon package. Additionally, if people fear a crime wave and are more likely to call the cops, that would entail an increase in reported crime. 

“You can cherry-pick statistics that make it look like crime is down or up,” Boudin has said. “But at a high level, there have been far fewer crimes reported to the police during my tenure than there were reported immediately prior.” 

He added: “We’re experiencing somewhat of a disconnect between what the data shows us and what people feel.”  

Author Lowery notes that recent surveys show that American believe that crime is increasing year by year, whether or not it is the case. 

Lowery writes that the disconnect might be tied to Americans reacting to the real increase in homicide rates, however noting that researchers are not yet comfortable explaining. 

 “People also might be reacting to exhaustive and sometimes simplistic news coverage of that violent spike. 

A “crime wave” has overtaken the media, said the Atlantic. “Mentions of the phrase more than doubled from 2019 to 2021 in major U.S. print publications, according to Nexis data; the number of minutes the big cable-news networks spent on it increased exponentially,” says Lowery. 

Boudin’s time in office can be characterized by high profile incidents that captured major media attention such as a viral video of a “decimated” Louis Vuitton or the daylight murder of an elderly man and the New Year’s incident where an intoxicated driver killed two pedestrians. 

“That event right there was the last straw for many of us, including me,” Greenberg said.

The effects that the pandemic had cannot be overlooked in spurring an increase in anti-social behavior ,according to Piquero. “We’re seeing increases in non-crime aggression,” Piquero said. “There’s this pent-up aggression. And that increase in aggression might be perceived as an increase in crime.”

The pandemic had made people feel less safe in another way, Boudin said, adding, “The way we feel when we walk around our streets has changed,” he told me. “There are far fewer people going shopping and tourists walking around our historic neighborhoods.”

As to the validity of a “crime wave,” this perception will have consequences for Boudin, wrote the Atlantic.

Polling commissioned by the recall campaign shows that more than half of likely voters believe that Boudin is “responsible for rising crime rates in San Francisco, especially burglaries and thefts.”

Boudin in response made a few arguments to Lowry, first stating that crime was down and that the pandemic “has made the business of justice harder” because of the courts shutting down through the pandemic.  

From ending cash bail to the stoppage of using enhancements and utilizing pre-trial diversion, Boudin’s policies might make the justice system more equitable but the question is, does it make the city more dangerous? 

The recall campaign argues that it does, claiming Boudin has created a “culture of impunity and let too many criminals walk free,” but according to Lowery there is not a lot of evidence to support that position beyond anecdotes. 

“But lenient tactics like Boudin’s lower recidivism rates and thus crime rates in the longer term, Doleac, along with Amanda Agan of Rutgers University and Anna Harvey of New York University, demonstrated in a recent study

Doleac told Lowery she was surprised by her own results, explaining, “It just seemed obvious to me that we would see some increase in criminal behavior on the other side, if some people are not being prosecuted and punished.”

That’s not what she found, noting, “It is just all benefits. There are no costs.”

As the recall election nears, polls have indicated that Boudin is likely to be ousted but has also garnished support from elected officials to most of the members of the Board of Supervisors. The San Francisco Chronicle ran an editorial supporting him as well as the ACLU Northern California. 

“The country has lurched from concern over murderous police violence and the tragedy of mass incarceration to concern about cities under siege and higher homicide rates. Boudin has responded in part by refusing to respond, declining to crack down or even to seem like he is. Whatever evidentiary backing that refusal might have, it has left many members of the relevant jury, the city’s voters, unconvinced,” said the Atlantic’s Lowery.  


About The Author

Alex Jimenez is a 4th year politcal science major at the University of Calfornia, Berkeley. He has future aspirations to attend law school and is from Pleasanton, Ca.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for