The US Department of Justice has awarded the city of San Francisco $1 million to research “the root causes of crime,” in the words of District Attorney George Gascón.
Members of San Francisco law enforcement have long noted that nearly a quarter of all youths remanded to San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall come from the same ZIP code, 94124, which is also the city ZIP code reporting the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as having a high concentration of families with children.
According to the San Francisco District Attorney, 70 percent of black youths in the eastern part of the Bayview neighborhood, in ZIP code 94124, are in the criminal justice system by the age of 17. Many of the youths who commit crimes and are taken into custody at Juvenile Hall were victims of crime before becoming perpetrators, and some exhibit mental health issues similar to those observed by soldiers in war zones. Lack of a strong family support network also contributes to the problem.
Using this information, San Francisco law enforcement is looking to examine ways of addressing crime as a public health issue, rather than focusing on the criminal justice aspects of offender treatment. According to Gascón, the $1 million grant will help authorities examine methods to “reduce crime and violence without increasing incarceration” as part of a “Safer Together Consortium.”
San Francisco law enforcement officers have experimented with other alternative methods of offender rehabilitation, including job placement for first-time offenders and drug treatment services for those who commit crimes to support drug addictions. According to Supervisor Malia Cohen, who oversees the district encompassing the 94124 ZIP code, “this is really a mental health crisis, and we deal with it from a law enforcement perspective.”
Other alternative methods being deployed to help fight crime in the most disadvantaged areas of the City include the new “Be the One” campaign, which is a social media campaign aimed at reducing the social isolation that can encourage criminal behavior. A proposal is also under consideration by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to prevent local law enforcement from issuing immigration holds on individuals scheduled for release, in the hopes that such a measure will increase cooperation between offenders and law enforcement by building trust. In addition, San Francisco is on the forefront of using mobile technology in criminal justice, recently unveiling a JusticeMobile app for authorities to check criminal backgrounds without calling or radioing for the information.
San Francisco was one of 10 cities nationwide awarded the $1 million law enforcement grant. The City of San Francisco applied for the grant last year but was denied due to the alternative nature of its proposals. As part of the awarded grant authorities will be required to develop plans within the first year of the three year grant cycle outlining its alternative strategies for using the grant to fight crime. The City plans to partner with other agencies in developing its “out of the box” approach.