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San Francisco Talks Fear And Frustration Despite Falling Crime Rates

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) - The high profile attack of a woman near the Embarcadero, and the suspect's subsequent release from custody, have sparked a citywide discussion about public safety, even as San Francisco Police statistics show declines in violent and property crimes.

It has been a week of intense discussion about public safety in San Francisco. A woman's attack, caught on video, and the suspect's subsequent release from custody have sparked outrage among many city residents frustrated with crime and the justice system.

"It's hard to believe the extent to how much in danger we are with these people walking our streets," said Paneez Kosarian, the woman attacked outside her home near the Embarcadero. All the way up to the mayor's office the case drove a citywide discussion about safety on city streets. It's the kind of conversation that might make one wonder about what is actually happening with crime in the city

"So first and foremost I think it's important to note that San Francisco's violent crime is the lowest it's been in decades," explained San Francisco District Attorney's Office spokesman Max Szabo after one of Austin Vincent's court hearings last week. "That's really important for the public to know, and I know that after seeing a video like this that may or may not be comforting for you ."

According to San Francisco Police Department data, crime is down in San Francisco, and it's been declining for at least a year and a half. Homicides in San Francisco are flirting with a 50 year low, and violent crime categories were not only down last year, they are down again, so far, this year.

"You can't substitute some idea that crime rates are down for the fact that the system failed here, and it failed in a really big way that we all saw," says Suzy Loftus, a former prosecutor now running for district attorney. She says the case of Austin Vincent, the man now charged in both the Embarcadero attack and another incident in February, has exposed a lack of confidence. "We saw a horrific act, from someone who's really struggling, and then we saw a system where their response was basically to say 'well, this wasn't that bad.' The person in court who is supposed to represent the people never even said the words 'I object to the release.'"

As for property crime, those numbers are, for the most part, also down in San Francisco, but it's worth remembering where they're coming down from.

"When the FBI says we have the highest rate of property crime in the nation among large US cities, even if we have a slight decline, our rate was so high to begin with, we don't feel it," says Joel Engardio, vice president of Stop Crime SF, a group that has pushed for greater accountability from the city's justice system. He says the case speaks to residents' frustration, and not just with cases drug or mental illness cases, as appears to be the situation with Vincent. There is also the continuing problem of drug crimes in the Tenderloin. SFPD's Tenderloin Station produces daily Twitter feed of drug arrests, often featuring suspects they have arrested just weeks or days before.

So the Austin Vincent case may not signal a crime wave, but a wave of frustration among those who feel statistics are not telling the entire story about safety in San Francisco.

"This case has touched a nerve, because it represents how people feel," says Engardio. "People don't feel safe walking down the street. Regardless of what the statistics say, this case embodies why people don't feel safe."

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