- The tragic murder of tech founder Bob Lee has reignited the debate about crime in San Francisco.
- Residents are calling on authorities to respond to the growing sense that the city has become too dangerous.
- Homicides are indeed on the rise, but the city’s violent crime rate is relatively stable.
The tragic murder of Bob Lee – a prolific tech investor and former chief technical officer of financial technology giant Square – has shed a harsh light on crime in San Francisco.
Data from local authorities paints a complicated picture of crime in the city: Most violent crime statistics have remained relatively stable in recent years, although the total number of homicides has increased. Property crimes, meanwhile, have risen sharply.
Some of Lee’s friends and colleagues in the tech industry reacted to the news of Lee’s death by calling on San Francisco Mayor London Breed to do more to address what they say is a growing sense that the city has become too dangerous in recent years. Elon Musk said in response that violent crime in the city is “horrendous”.
The disconnect between San Francisco’s reasonable safety record on paper and the lived experiences of the people who live there has become a widely discussed topic in the wake of Lee’s death. This tension is belied by a set of facts that do not fit neatly into any narrative about the city and its future.
The debate over San Francisco’s safety is unfortunately not new, as the city has become associated with images of sprawling homeless encampments and open-air drug markets. Last year, the issue became national amid the widely discussed ouster of progressive district attorney Chesa Boudin.
Others also express themselves, such as Joshua Goldbard, CEO and co-founder of Lee at startup MobileCoin. “As a permanent Bay Area resident, I have more questions than answers tonight,” Goldbard tweeted Wednesday night. “I don’t know how to fix what’s wrong, but I know something is wrong in our gray town.”
SF is a relatively safe big city, but homicides are higher
The total number of violent crimes is relatively low compared to San Francisco’s population of over 800,000. In 2022, San Francisco’s violent crime rate was 647 per 100,000 people, according to SFPD data – an increase compared to 550 in 2020 and 603 in 2021, but lower than the 2019 pre-pandemic figure of 696.
SFPD violent crime statistics include homicides, rapes, assaults and robberies.
Those statistics compare relatively favorably to other major cities in the United States, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, citing FBI data. Houston, for example, had a violent crime rate of 1,256 per 100,000 population in 2020, the most recent year for which the FBI compiled data. San Francisco was at 550 that same year. Chicago was at 987 and Los Angeles at 722. (New York was slightly less safe than San Francisco that year, at 578.)
Meanwhile, San Francisco’s homicide rate was 5 per 100,000 in 2020, according to FBI crime data, as analyzed by the San Francisco Chronicle. That’s well below Chicago, which had the highest homicide rate that year at 29 per 100,000, and slightly better than New York’s 6 and Los Angeles’ 9. It’s also lower than other cities of comparable size to San Francisco, including Columbus, Ohio.
But a look at more recent data compiled by the San Francisco Police Department shows things are slowly moving in the wrong direction. The SFPD says that in 2019, homicides decreased by 11% from the previous year, but then increased by 17% each year in 2020 and 2021. There were no changes in 2022, in particular .
These statistics put San Francisco at up to 7 homicides per 100,000 population in 2021 and 2022.
Crime is down in San Francisco and California overall
Overall, violent crime in SF has dropped significantly since the 1990s, as it has across the state of California, according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Additionally, San Francisco’s trends are similar to the rest of the country, where overall violent crime hasn’t increased, but homicides have increased, according to a Pew Research Center study. The 2020 homicide rate in the United States was 7.8 per 100,000 people, according to the study.
Still, there seems to be a gap between the data and the lived reality for some in the city, as Lee’s death sparks an outpouring of people sharing their own stories of crime in San Francisco.
The Mayor of London Breed issued a statement to news outlets including SF Chronicle and ABC7 saying Lee’s death is a “horrific tragedy”. Brooke Jenkins, the San Francisco District Attorney, tweeted Wednesday that there were no arrests yet and sent a message of condolence to Lee’s family.
Additionally, the San Francisco Police Department must conclude its investigation before the district attorney’s office can intervene, Randy Quezada, director of communications at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, told Insider’s Grace Kay and Sindhu Sundar. .