San Francisco residents wonder if they should just learn to tolerate burglaries

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

The San Francisco Chronicle published a story over the weekend that really shows you where things are going in the city. It was about two men, Nicholas Tiller and Tyler Howerton, who were caught after a recent burglary in the Castro district. Both have long criminal histories of similar crimes and neither seems likely to stop committing crimes those crimes so long as they are free to do so. But in San Francisco, with progressive DA Chesa Boudin, there is uncertainty about how to deal with them.

What to do about the two men is a quandary for a city pursuing criminal justice reform while debating how to manage rates of property crime that for years have been among the highest in the nation…

Residents and city leaders are searching for answers: Should they tolerate a high level of burglaries as a downside of city living, and focus on barricading their homes? Should people who are repeatedly accused of stealing be targeted with rehabilitation services, or incarcerated so they can’t commit more crimes?…

Boudin and other policymakers believe that incarceration fails to address the underlying factors in property crime, such as poverty and addiction.

Although San Francisco offers diversion programs and collaborative courts that link people to treatment, the criminal legal system in general “cannot resolve all of the major, structural problems — including poverty, a lack of housing, and widespread addiction that create the conditions for property crime,” said Marshall, his spokesperson.

That’s it. Tiller and Howerton have been charged and could face multiple years in prison but, in general, the DA’s approach is that he can’t fix this problem by incarcerating everyone. So residents are realizing this is just something they will have to get used to and police are advising them to provide their own security so the thieves go elsewhere.

“Police gave us some ideas about how to improve not just our house, but the whole block,” Hansen said. “The basic message that they have is, ‘If your block is anti-theft, they will go to another block.”

Some residents grudgingly accept this element of city living. Others are appalled, saying they’ve begun to lose faith in the legal system.

The story ends with one of the burglary victims spotting his bike in a homeless camp. He called police and they turned up only to tell him there was nothing they could do. Without a way to prove it was his bike, it was his word against the thieves. No arrests. No charges. Just get used to it.

Last week the Chronicle published data on charging rates for DA Boudin comapared to his predecessor, progressive DA George Gascón. It shows a mixed picture. Charging rates for homicide were about the same but rates for rape and narcotics crimes were up. However charging rates for theft and petty theft were down sharply:

If you’re wondering why so many stores are closing down or reducing hours, that graph is your answer. DA Boudin blames the decreased charging rate on the pandemic which closed courts and caused lesser crimes to be put on the back burner. The charging rate for burglary, which is what Tiller and Howerton were charged with, was also down but not as much, only by 8 percent. But keep in mind, all of these comparisons are to the previous DA who was also progressive.

I think the takeaway here is that if you elect a DA who sees theft and burglary as crimes for which people should not be incarcerated then your only alternative is to take security into your own hands. San Francisco really is a beautiful city but increasingly I wonder why people would want to live there. My guess is that gradually people will get fed up with this and either choose a DA who wants to stop these crimes or move somewhere else that already has a justice system that takes them seriously.