San Francisco Rolling Out "Cash For Criminals" Project To Curb Violence

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

As bad as violent crime was in San Francisco last year, 2021 is even worse, with homicides and aggravated assaults outpacing last year’s increase. Now supervisors in the city have a plan to reduce violent crime: paying at-risk individuals a monthly stipend, with the promise of more cash to come if they meet certain benchmarks and don’t get caught up in the vicious cycle of aggression and retaliation.

The idea is to provide the small number of San Franciscans who authorities believe are most at risk of shooting someone — or being shot — with an incentive to get help and stay out of trouble. It’s a solution that proponents say already has shown promise preventing gun crimes in other parts of California.

At worst, the program could be called “cash for criminals,” like its predecessors in cities around the Bay Area. At best, it could save lives and tax dollars otherwise spent on incarceration.

The program, which will launch as a pilot in October, is called the Dream Keeper Fellowship. It’s San Francisco’s latest iteration of a guaranteed-income program that will provide high-risk individuals with $300 a month as a start.

Participants will be able to earn up to $200 more a month by hitting milestones in the program, such as landing a job interview, complying with probation or consistently meeting with a mentor.

As the San Francisco Examiner notes, the city’s pilot program, which will start with ten individuals, is based on a similar project in nearby Oakland that some believe was responsible for a dramatic decline in shootings and homicides. The big difference between the two is that in Oakland’s program, the cash was used as an incentive for meeting certain goals. In San Francisco, all participants will start out with a free $300 each month, with the promise of more if participants are able to meet their benchmarks.

“We know that $500 in San Francisco is not a significant amount of money,” said Sheryl Davis, a proponent of the program and executive director of the Human Rights Commission. “But if it’s enough to get you in to talk to folks, and be able to make a plan for your life, then that’s huge.”

… “What we are actually doing is trying to address the root causes of some of what’s happened,” Davis said. “Six thousand dollars per person, when you look at it annually, is nothing if it helps deter criminal activity compared to the amount of money it costs to incarcerate someone, let alone the impact of the activity itself.”

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that most violence in any given city is driven by a small group of core offenders, so it makes sense to target anti-violence efforts on those most at-risk of committing a violent crime or being a victim. I confess, though, that the city’s plan to give these individuals a guaranteed stipend (even one as small as $300 per month) rubs me the wrong way. There are other initiatives out there with a proven track record of success that also target those individuals who are driving the violence but don’t pay them any cash for not pulling the trigger. Project Ceasefire, for example, still offers counseling, job training, and other outreach efforts, but also promises swift and certain prosecution in federal court for those who continue their life of crime. That’s clearly not touchy-feely enough for the far-Left supervisors in San Francisco, but it does have the benefit of actually working.

Of course, if San Francisco’s political class wanted to take a really bold step, they wouldn’t stop with doling out cash to high-risk individuals. They’d recognize that with shootings up more than 100% compared to 2019, the average citizen in San Francisco not only has the need but the right to protect themselves. San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto rarely approves carry permits (there were just two active permits in 2015), even though assaults and shootings of random strangers are on the rise. It’s one thing to focus on violent criminals, but it’s long past time to ensure that the law-abiding have the means to protect themselves by adopting a “shall issue” system for concealed handgun permits as well.

Oct 21, 2021 9:30 PM ET
Oct 21, 2021 6:30 PM ET