Guns, crack cocaine fuel homicides in S.F. - 98 killings in 2007
Cecilia M. Vega, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The prevalence of guns and an uptick in the crack cocaine trade are fueling homicides in San Francisco, which in 2007 recorded its highest number of killings in more than a decade, a police analysis of the bloodshed shows.
Of the 98 homicides in 2007, the biggest share took place in the city's violence-plagued Bayview neighborhood, and more than half of all the victims killed were black men.
San Francisco police officials testifying Monday before the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee hearing in City Hall said guns were the cause of nearly 75 percent of all the city's slayings last year.
"If you took the guns out of the picture ... we have relatively very little other violence," said Lt. John Murphy, who heads the Police Department's homicide detail. "It's just spontaneous violence, and everybody's carrying a gun."
Other large cities around the country, including Los Angeles, New York and Boston, all saw decreases in homicides, but San Francisco's peaked. The last time the city had more killings in one year was in 1995, when there were 104.
San Francisco was not alone. Other Bay Area cities also saw a spike; Richmond had 47 homicides in 2007, compared with 42 in 2006, marking the highest number in 12 years. In December alone, there were 13 slayings - the most homicides on record for a single month in the East Bay city.
Oakland saw a drop in the total number of slayings for 2007, with 127 homicides, compared with 148 the previous year.
Though San Francisco's Bayview district was hit hardest, with 24 homicides last year, there were four fewer killings there than in 2006. The Police Department's Northern Station, which encompasses the Western Addition neighborhood, had five fewer homicides in 2007 than in the previous year - a decrease city officials and police attribute to an increase in uniformed police presence.
The neighborhood got off to a bloody start, with one weekend in February leaving two men and a 13-year-old girl shot dead, but there hasn't been a homicide in there since spring, city officials said.
"We said to the community, 'We are establishing a presence here.' And it was welcomed. ... They felt a sense of relief," said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Western Addition on the Board of Supervisors and chairs the Public Safety Committee. "I'm wondering if this can be replicated in other pockets (of the city)."
An increase in foot patrols "elevated the self-esteem back up of the community," Mirkarimi said.
Murphy called the saturated effort involving uniformed officers routinely patrolling the neighborhood and working hand-in-hand with the Police Department's gang task force to target suspects "the best way to go. Period."
Although the Western Addition saw a drop in homicides, there were increases in other neighborhoods. There were four homicides in the Tenderloin in 2006, but last year there were nine - in large part because of drugs, specifically crack cocaine, Murphy said.
"The drug violence is way up," Murphy said. "People are coming from other areas to sell drugs."
In all, there were 19 drug-related killings in the city last year, compared with 13 in 2006. Only disputes between individuals topped drugs as the known reasons for possible motives. Police believe disputes led to 30 homicides in 2007.
Of the 98 killings, police closed 22 cases by arresting suspects, Murphy said. Three were closed because the killings were deemed to be homicide-suicides.
Mayor Gavin Newsom recently hired former U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan, who was fired as part of a Bush administration shakeup in the Justice Department, to be the mayor's point person on criminal justice issues.
Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said Monday that the mayor will be introducing "new strategies to augment existing strategies" in coming weeks.
"Even one homicide is unacceptable," Ballard said. "We're not satisfied with what we have done to confront the plague of homicides on our streets. ... We're not doing enough. We need to do more."
Seven of the people killed last year were juveniles, the youngest being two 15-year-old boys, one of whom was slain in a dispute and the other in a gang-related homicide, police said.
Murphy also said a handful of shootings took place outside nightclubs last year; only one did in 2006.
"People (are) coming to San Francisco, going to the clubs and carrying guns," he said. "And the majority of that violence occurs when the club closes in the evening."
Last year, the city also saw an increase in the number of Latinos killed, from 16 in 2006 to 24 in 2007, a figure that includes two double homicides.
The number of homicides involving sharp instruments, such as a knife, doubled in 2007 from 8 to 16.
E-mail Cecilia M. Vega at email@example.com
.Guns, crack cocaine fuel homicides in S.F. - 98 killings in 2007