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After high-crime spate, trends reverse

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San Francisco’s crime rate continues to plummet — it’s down 9 percent so far this year — after some of the most deadly years in decades, police Chief George Gascón said Thursday.

From January through September, there was a 9 percent decrease in crime compared to last year and a 13 percent decrease compared to 2008, Gascón said. The City tracks 15 categories of crimes, such as homicide and robbery. Violent crime is down 4 percent compared to 2009.

Gascón said the decline is due to an effort to analyze where crime will occur through the Police Department’s million-dollar CompStat system. By analyzing trends through computers and problem-solving meetings, police are dispatched to hot spots before incidents occur.

"Fighting crime requires that you remain flexible and that you look at the various factors that influence crime," Gascón said.

The decrease fits a national trend in big cities such as New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, where homicide rates hit their lowest marks since the 1960s. In San Francisco, there were 45 homicides in 2009, the lowest total in 50 years, and 2010 appears to be on pace for a similar total.

The chief was flanked by Mayor Gavin Newsom and District Attorney Kamala Harris, who are both running for state office, in a City Hall conference room. All three emphasized the importance of continuing to allow the police chief full authority to deploy officers — a veiled shot at Proposition M, which would mandate police foot patrols in The City.

"I want to encourage everyone to support his leadership and his ability ... to know what is in the best interests of public safety when he makes decisions about how the resources of the Police Department will be used," Harris said.

"Let’s not allow politics to enter into those decisions," Newsom said.

Newsom praised Gascón for making such positive gains against crime with so few resources. The decrease comes despite a drastic cutback in overtime, the equivalent of 150 officers, and the prospect of 78 officers retiring by next year.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com