Mayoral candidate Steve Francis has built his surprisingly populist campaign around a voluminous playbook titled “Steve Francis’ Vision for San Diego.” It contains chapter after chapter of proposals, ideas and examples of success from other cities.

It also starts off with “A Letter from Steve.” In that letter, Francis states: “Our neighborhoods are suffering from a rise in crime, crumbling streets and a lack of fire protection.”

But wait a minute. A rise in crime? Francis released this vision earlier this month when he announced his candidacy — a day after the Police Department announced a drop in the crime rate.

When I went to the campaign to see what numbers Francis was using to back that statement up, I was referred to Vince Vasquez, Francis’ policy director. After all, the crime rate had recently dropped, so I wanted to hear the reasoning behind the statement. His explanation: the total number of incidents of crime has risen since 1973.

But the city was significantly smaller back then.

In 1973, there were 744,600 people in the city of San Diego and 45,556 total reported incidents of crime. In 2006, the population had jumped to 1,311,162. Meanwhile, there were 51,600 incidents of crime.

That means that over a time in which the population rose 81.5 percent, the total number of crimes increased by 13.3 percent.

Here was Vazquez’ reasoning for using that metric, conveyed via e-mail:

Certainly, I am aware that the crime “rate” would be historically down, as our city has ballooned in population. I believe however the incident index is a more balanced and measured approach to determining conclusively if crime is on the rise or not.

The actual crime rate has dropped significantly in recent decades, with the total going from 61.19 crimes per 1,000 people in 1973 to 37.77 per 1,000 in 2007.

Vasquez also said crime has risen when you look at it block-by-block, pointing to recent upticks in specific areas — the Gaslamp, Adams Avenue North, San Ysidro, and Fox Canyon — since Sanders took office in 2005.

While indeed, crime in certain categories has increased in those neighborhoods between 2005 and 2007, they are four in more than 100 neighborhoods broken down by police. I randomly picked four other neighborhoods to test that theory — Clairemont Mesa East, Linda Vista, Logan Heights and Mission Beach — and found that crime had decreased since 2005, by more than 30 percent in two of them.

The statement is just one of many found in the 50-page report. But with Francis now trying to appeal to a new audience with a plan for “urban renaissance,” he’s banking on statements like these to make his case.

Here’s what Vasquez said about the wording of Francis’ report when I asked him how the numbers could be used to support a broad statement that “Our neighborhoods are suffering from a rise in crime:”

The statement “our neighborhoods are suffering from a rise in crime” accurately identifies that individual neighborhoods in San Diego are experiencing rises in crime. What would be an overly broad assertion would be to say “our entire city is suffering from a rise in crime,” or, “San Diego is suffering from a rise in crime,” as city documents I have referenced to you, as well as news articles of course show that overall city rate is down in the last few years. As such, we did not make that assertion.


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