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Is San Francisco a singularly “failed city” of “epidemic,” “surging” crime due to “progressive governance,” as national media reports relentlessly insist?

In May 2021, the New York Times announced a shoplifting “epidemic” in San Francisco, based on a “viral video” of a brazen shoplifter and a few sensational quips blaming District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s liberal policies. ABC News, Newsweek, the Washington Post, CBS News, Atlantic Magazine, and other national press and commentators followed with pieces demonizing San Francisco as a crime-ridden hellscape. MSNBC’s Chuck Todd joined others blaming “progressive governance.” Polls showing San Franciscans deeply dissatisfied with their city’s leadership and direction were loudly touted.

No similar critiques scrutinized conservative, tough-talking prosecutors whose jurisdictions oversaw far more alarming increases in crime and overdoses. The vital context of polls showing widespread dissatisfaction among Americans in general with their leaders and direction was omitted. The supposedly “liberal” national media seem obsessed with unseating progressives for unknown reasons – certainly not objective factualism.

The California Department of Justice’s just-released 2021 crime statistics confirm what the San Francisco Police Department’s readily-available monthly crime reports have shown all along: the San Francisco crime panic was fabricated. In fact, San Francisco experienced the same crime pattern as most of the country. Crime fell from 2019 to 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced public shutdowns, then rose in 2021 and 2022 as society opened back up.

The real story was that San Francisco’s crime trends were more favorable than those elsewhere. From 2019 through 2021, coinciding with reformer Boudin’s 30 months in office, property crime fell 6% and violent crime fell by 18% in San Francisco, compared to a 4% decline in property crime and an 8% increase in violent crime in other California cities. By number from 2019 through 2021, San Francisco’s homicides rose by 16, rapes fell by 122, robberies fell by 876, aggravated assaults fell by 144, burglaries rose by 2,628, and thefts fell by 7,375, indicating some reclassifications of vehicle break-ins from thefts to burglaries.

Bottom line: while some crimes rose and others fell as they do every year everywhere, total Part I violent and property crimes declined by 5,873 in San Francisco during the 2019-2021 period. How did the press radically distort this trend into a crime “surge” and “epidemic”? By laziness and venality. Reporters relied on inflammatory quips and selective impressions while refusing to check easily-accessible statistics even when provided links.

Meanwhile, in Bakersfield and Sacramento, where conservative, hardline district attorneys rule, property crime trends were worse than San Francisco’s and violent crimes leaped by an alarming 18% and 27%, respectively, during the same period. In California’s 23, mostly-rural Republican-voting counties, violent crime rose 14%. If gangs, state reforms, and “liberals” caused the violence increase in conservative areas, as reporters let Sacramento’s D.A. and Kern County officials claim, then why did liberal San Francisco – which also has gangs and operates under the same state policies – experience declining violence?

The same national media so eager to berate progressive San Francisco over a made-up shoplifting “epidemic” and “crime surge” couldn’t get interested in real violence and homicide surges under “conservative governance.” Just as reporters ignored the staggering, 48% jump in gun homicides in two years in conservative Texas, they failed to note that San Francisco’s 56 homicides in 2021 were a strikingly low number for a city of nearly 900,000 people. Similar-sized Ft. Worth, Texas, Jacksonville, Florida, and Indianapolis, Indiana – all in conservative states – had 118, 128, and 271 homicides, respectively, in 2021.

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San Francisco does have real problems that long predate modern governance. San Francisco’s tragic excess of drug and alcohol abuse deaths has persisted ever since 1967’s Summer of Love. What is not reported is that conservative areas are catching up fast. From 2019 to 2021, as drug/alcohol fatalities rocketed from 488 to 711 in San Francisco amid alarmed condemnations of city leadership, they soared even more, from 441 to an identical 711 in similarly populated, Republican-run Kern County, to media silence. While San Francisco ranked near-worst nationally in overdose death rates for decades, it is now surpassed by Indianapolis, Nashville, Louisville, Richmond, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Charleston, and hundreds of other populous areas. Lots of places are finding bodies in their streets.

Homelessness and street populations are acute in high-rent San Francisco, as they afflict every American city. New York City and Boston suffer the nation’s first and fourth highest average rents; San Francisco ranks ninth. Property crime has always plagued San Francisco. The record was 64,624 felony property offenses reported in 1992 (falling to 50,012 in 2019 and 45,265 in 2021). San Francisco has the richest per-capita income and second highest retail density in the country, with high-end stores, 30,000 to 70,000 visitors in town on an average day, and gadget-stuffed cars all inviting organized theft rings.

Such high economic standings are not normally termed “failure.” However, the press has proven strangely reluctant to engage the reality that, while overwhelmingly Whiter, older-aged, Republican-governed counties (especially in Republican-governed states) are stunningly poorer, less productive, and riskier for violence than Democrat-governed counties (particularly in Democrat-governed states, especially San Francisco).

San Francisco’s worst problems have been fostered by booming too much in recent decades, and a small bust is now underway. Walgreen’s overbuilt 17 drug stores in San Francisco, one every three miles, and now requires closures due to market over-saturation, just as Walgreen’s is closing 200 stores nationwide. Yet, reporters – even after being informed of this fact – ignored it in order to enable Walgreen’s officials to scapegoat shoplifting for the San Francisco closures.

Of course, every area has contingencies, another nuance escaping the national press. California’s Central Valley counties could point to high poverty levels that create conditions for violence. San Francisco’s affluence and retail density have long created conditions for property crime. District attorneys everywhere could blame the police, who make arrests in just 7% of property offenses. San Francisco police have proven particularly inefficient for years, solving only 4% of property crimes with an arrest in 2021, leaving D.A.s with few cases regardless of their politics. Yet, reporters frequently allow anonymous police spokespersons to recast police incompetence as some kind of political statement against policy reforms.

In short, painting San Francisco as a crime-ridden horror-tale is national media disinformation manufactured by reporters who could have inflicted their lapses in journalistic ethics on any community. The press’s mass-trashing of San Francisco to the evident glee of conservative commentators for problems afflicting America in general unconscionably intervened in local politics. Given numerous efforts to notify reporters and editors of factual information over the last year, the only conclusion is that the national press suppressed compelling facts in order to prop up its popular but false narrative that wimpy-liberals-cause-crime.

Fortunately, voters seem to be catching on to phony media panics. One new wrinkle is that instead of cowering and backtracking when conservatives shout crime! and the “liberal media” flock to tout tough-sounding talk, progressives are going on offense. After Boudin counter-attacked his conservative D.A. critics for their much-higher crime rates, his standing rose 17 points in the polls before his narrow recall vote. California Gov. Gavin Newsom branded Republican Kern County the “murder capital of California.” California’s reform-oriented Attorney General Rob Bonta won re-election handily over a hardliner, liberal Karen Bass is likely to be elected mayor of Los Angeles over a conservative candidate, and liberal officials prevailed in key D.A. races from the Bay Area to Philadelphia.

Overall, after large reductions in drug and property crime imprisonments in recent decades, California and San Francisco experienced the lowest rates of crime and violence ever reliably recorded, led by a remarkable, 93% plummet in crime by youths – yet more trends the interest-captured press has proven reticent to engage. Unfortunately, viral videos are at an all-time high, along with the usual sensational anecdotes and hotheaded quips. True, San Franciscans are dissatisfied, just as Americans in general are dissatisfied. Tellingly, both primarily blame the leadership they themselves elected.