By Jonah Owen Lamb
How many people were robbed or assaulted in San Francisco last month? How many burglaries and shootings occurred in, say, February?
Answers to such questions can be found on the Police Department’s website, where monthly crime statistics are available to the public.
The only problem is that some of these numbers are wrong. And two years after the Police Department commissioned a review of its crime statistics collection system (CompStat), it remains an incomplete reflection of what’s really happening on the streets of San Francisco.
The department’s website, for instance, says 191 people were shot and survived in 2013. The real count, according to police, was 161. The same was true for 2012 – CompStat counted 190 shooting victims while police tallied 150.
And as for aggravated assaults in the first half of 2013, the divide was even greater. Police reported 1,874, but the FBI counted 1,073.
“If the data is inaccurate, I think that’s a problem,” said Police Commissioner Suzy Loftus. “We should provide accurate crime stats.”
Police insist things have improved in the years since the CompStat audit.
The system, modeled on several other metropolitan departments, is meant to give police and the public an accurate picture of crime in each of The City’s 10 police districts so tactics and resources can be used to combat specific crimes.
Even after CompStat’s inception in 2009 under then-Police Chief George Gascón, San Francisco was dinged for failing to accurately report the number of minorities it arrests, for example.
To get a better look at issues with CompStat, current Chief Greg Suhr asked the City Controller’s Office to audit the system in 2012. What the office came back with was not stellar.
It found that the system unnaturally fluctuates because of the many data sources it collects, is prone to errors because data are manually compiled, and the publicly available statistics vary.
“Compstat is a compilation from several sources that give us the closest to real-time information as currently possible,” said Suhr.
It may not be perfect, said Suhr, but it has improved in the past three years and the department continues to try to improve the system’s accuracy.
Loftus, who conceded the department has been moving in the right direction, said the issue has centered on getting the right technological infrastructure in place so data can be compiled right.
“There’s sometimes a gap between what we expect from technology and what we expect is possible and the infrastructure we have for our criminal justice system,” said Loftus.
Aside from attending police station meetings, CompStat is the main avenue for the public to get information on crime in San Francisco, said Brent Sverdloff, the executive director of SFsafe, a nonprofit that works closely with police.
Until the department fixes CompStat or replaces it, the majority of the public will remain in the dark on San Francisco crime trends.