Did the Tech Boom Create a Crime Boom? Let’s Look at the Data.
We hear a lot about the companies valued at over $1B, and that ⅓ of the world’s Unicorns live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lately, more people are voicing concerns about the other humans who live there too:
“Every day, on my way to, and from work, I see people sprawled across the sidewalk, tent cities, human feces, and the faces of addiction. The city is becoming a shanty town… Worst of all, it is unsafe.” – Justin Keller (from the controversial letter to SF Mayor)
“I feel safer walking at night in New York than walking during the day in San Francisco.” – New Yorker living in San Francisco, as seen on Facebook.
We looked into the data behind these feelings, and the story it tells surprised many:
BTW: All this data has come from the very accessible SFPD database, Brookings Institute research papers , and good ol’ Zillow. And we’ve also normalized the % of crime growth for population growth.
We were curious about what San Francisco looks like against other major cities in the USA, and found some surprising insights.
But first, let me give you some background about our “investigation.”
Making Street Crime Data Useful
The problem was clear when we found ourselves holding our bags and phones a little closer while walking though Tenderloin and Mid Market at night, as Google Maps or Apple Maps routed us that way. Surely if these apps are navigating drivers away from traffic, there should be a way to navigate pedestrians, runners or even cyclists away from sketchy streets? We couldn’t find any, so we decided to build our own.
Walky is now live in 7 other cities besides San Francisco – Oakland, Baltimore, Austin, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Chicago. New York, among others, will be coming pretty soon. Walky recommends walking routes based on recent crime data and crowdsourced in-app crime reports, which you can view within the app to stay informed of your neighborhood and where you’re walking.
Because each city’s data sources come structured differently, we’ve chosen to stack crime in San Francisco against crime reports in the following cities: Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and NYC.
In SF between 2010 and 2015, we saw 1.8x more theft reported. But what about crime growth in other cities?
Because population differs so greatly across cities, we didn’t just take into account absolute number of crime reports, we also normalized crime growth as a % of the cities’ population.
So, is rising crime merely a San Francisco thing?
What’s interesting is…
New York and Seattle saw 1.1x more crime reported vs 2010
But LA actually saw a 10% drop in reported theft, and Chicago a whopping 26% drop!
So San Francisco’s crime growth does in fact stand out here because last year, 4.6% of the SF population reported theft. That’s nearly double from 2.8% increase from 2010!
If we assume people are equally likely to report theft, people living in San Francisco were, in 2015:
6.2x more likely to have something stolen than people in LA
2.6x more likely than people in New York City
2.1x more likely than people in Chicago
And just 1.1x more likely than those in Seattle
Even without normalizing for population, there were a whopping 38,738 theft reports in SF, that’s 106 reports/day, compared to 28,770 reports in LA, or 79 reports/day.
That may seem like just 10,000 more in SF in 2015, but this is in spite of the fact that LA’s population is 4.6x more than SF’s!
You’re 7x more likely to get your car stolen in SF than NYC
Yup. You read that right. In addition to that, SF saw a 64% hike in car theft last year than in 2010! And in the meantime…
There was 13% drop in LA
28% drop in NYC (in 2014)
47% drop in Chicago (WHOA!)
You’re also 2.5x more likely to get your car stolen in SF than in LA, 1.8 more likely than in Chicago.
Last year, 6 out of 1000 people in SF had their homes broken into, vs 2 out of 1000 in NYC.
Normalized, SF’s % burglary over 5 years grew 19%, and in Seattle, 10%
Only SF and Seattle saw increases in burglary rates, the rest decreased!
NYC burglaries dropped by 12%, LA’s dropped by 25%, and Chicago by a massive 51%!
But wait, what happened in Seattle?
In 2015, 1 out of every 100 Seattle homes were broken into – that’s a 4x higher chance than in LA, and 5.8x more than in NYC.
But this is where Seattle has its own story. But we’ll come back to this later.
You’re 3x more likely to get robbed in SF than LA.
We’re seeing something pretty interesting here.
CONCLUSION: While most crime reports have seen slight growth (or even steep decreases for theft), crime reports in SF are seeing a rise, and in many cases even a steep rise.
But what about other crimes?
Theft, robberies, burglaries are on the rise in SF but everything else is stagnating or dropping.
San Francisco has reported very little growth in assault and battery cases, with the # of crimes remaining almost the same in spite of population growth.
We’ve noticed an emerging pattern here: a dramatic increase in crimes involving property in SF. Property meaning cash, phones, cars, the acquisition of THINGS in general.
Are people who don’t have things, taking things from people who do?
Do people really need that much money to live in SF?
We decided to take a look at the median sale and rent prices from Zillow. How much does it cost to buy or rent a home in SF, LA, NYC, Seattle or Chicago? If you want to rent a home in SF it’s now 36% more than in 2010 (BOOM!)
Seattle has seen a pretty high increase as well with 35%.
In the meantime, it’s only 29% more in NYC, 18% more in LA and 5% more in Chicago.
In terms of absolute $ prices, it still costs almost double to rent an apartment in SF vs NYC & LA.
Maslow will point out that merely finding SHELTER costs way more than many people’s average salaries.
Wait. Aren’t We Seeing Something Happening in Seattle?
While there have been drastic increases in crime in SF, Seattle seems to be on the rise as well for pretty much everything (property prices too!). What does that mean?
In fact, out of the 84 companies who’ve set up Engineering Centers in Seattle, 36% of them were setup only in the last 2 years, and the list is poised to grow. Alibaba, Apple, Dropbox, Grab, Oculus, SpaceX, Lyft, Palantir, Snapchat, Uber are just a few examples of big names who’ve set up shop in Seattle between 2014 and now.
Is Seattle the next San Francisco?
Who benefits the most?
Record numbers of companies are being founded and “transplants” are moving from their hometowns into the Bay Area. At the average tech employee age of 31, many are opting, and can afford, to live in SF. Rental prices have skyrocketed, as well as traffic congestion into and back from SV. With shuttles and soon, a BART line, it’s becoming more efficient to live in the city and work in the valley.
In 2012, to combat tech companies moving to SV, Mayor Ed Lee offered tax breaks to tech firms moving their HQ to or near Tenderloin – known as CBA, or Community Benefit Agreements, and affectionately referred by many as the “Twitter tax break.”
It would seem like these companies and the city benefited greatly.
In 2014, qualified tech companies saved $34M from their temporary exemption from the city’s 1.5% payroll tax. And Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement boasting the city’s “record revenues in business taxes,” also receiving stock option gains from Twitter’s $25B IPO and Zendesk’s $100M IPO. “San Francisco chief economist Ted Egansaid that the net increase in long-term business tax revenue from the tax break was estimated to be $54 million over 20 years.”
But has it? While unemployment decreased and new cultural art centers have emerged, does it offset the growing pains? Displacement and crime are growing.
And it’s not just city dwellers that are forced out of the city. Office prices have almost doubled. As CNet reports, “The average asking price in Union Square is now $51 per square foot, up from $27 in 2010. Don Tamaki, an attorney at Minami Tamaki said the ‘astronomical’ increases” in office rent — up 94 percent citywide since 2010 — have caused an ‘exodus.’”
So this not only drives up rent, price out small businesses, and is unaffordable to live in the city, but it displaces the working class who help the city and its people. “Folks who serve seniors and pass out food to the homeless really need to stay in the neighborhood they’re in,” said San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim.
At the epicenter of tech and growth, how are we ok with pricing out an increasing number of mom and pop shops, nonprofits, teachers, service workers, etc out of living or working in the city, and walk by so many people living on the streets?
Is this the next trend of US cities? We’re seeing it start in Seattle, and gentrification is happening everywhere. Tech boom, followed by a crime boom and exodus. Which city will experience the next boom?
Do Tech Companies Care About All This?
“The challenge now is for big players like Google and Facebook to look at what negative impact their business operations have had around them, and to figure out what resources they have to tackle these issues,” Shannon Schuyler, corporate responsibility leader at auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and president of the company’s Charitable Foundation said.
Here’s a list of the largest tech companies inhabiting SF and what we found on tech companies giving back to the community:
1) Many tech companies are providing little or no support to the local neighborhood to help the community and its residents, whether they are getting huge tax breaks for being located in Tenderloin or Mid-market or otherwise.
2) Tech companies are not doing much to offset their negative impact on the neighborhood’s residents. Many do not have time to wait til their children grow up and learn tech to see their quality of life/living situation change. What are companies doing now to get people back on their feet post effects of tech boom?
3) Most tech companies are not leveraging their tech. We hope to see more tech companies following Zendesk’s lead to provide a stech i has provided a civic tech solution. Civic tech has huge marginal impact and potential.
The Intersection of Tech and Civic Action
And then we have Civic Tech movement, where citizens use software to make a change. This has been grabbing headlines recently too.
For Walky, our users report incidents, when combined with updated local street crime data from police departments, is accessible to property owners, property websites, travel websites, and back to local councils themselves, creating an awareness loop that will incentivize more parties to get involved in the lowering of crime. For example:
Property owners of buildings worrying about effect on accessible crime data on their property prices
Tourists choosing to stay at, or visit areas, affecting tourism revenue
Fitness apps redirecting runners to the right areas
Citizens to more easily hold their local council members accountable for keeping streets safe
While we play a small role in this change, we hope you will try out Walky, recommend it to friends, and give us feedback too. Data and tech CAN help keep streets safer!
Tech Fights Back
We urge any of the large tech companies to highlight their efforts, either via their core services and products, or CSR efforts. And also to highlight smaller tech startups and their role in making cities better. We imagine a reality where the more innovation and tech comes into a city, the more welcome it is as it makes the cities safer, richer, and more habitable for everyone!