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Car break-ins jump 26 percent despite SF police chief’s new efforts

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Crime statistics show that 25,617 vehicles were broken into in S.F. this year by the end of October. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco has experienced a 26 percent increase in reported car break-ins so far this year despite all the attention city leaders have paid to the incessant problem, according to new numbers from police.

The most recent crime statistics available show that auto burglars broke into 25,617 vehicles by the end of October — 5,333 more than reported at that point in 2016, according to the San Francisco Police Department.

The uptick persisted despite efforts from Police Chief Bill Scott, who in late August said he would disband an investigative unit assigned to reduce car break-ins and instead focus those department resources on prevention.

Scott announced he would more than double the amount of officers on foot patrol around The City to around 150 and said, “We believe that this will have a good impact on our auto burglaries.”

But in each of the two months that followed, auto burglars did not let up. In fact, there were fewer car break-ins reported in August, the month before Scott doubled foot patrols.

The number of reported car break-ins each month in San Francisco rose from 2,178 in August to 2,331 in September and 2,816 in October.

“What we’ve been doing hasn’t worked,” said Supervisor Norman Yee, who introduced legislation with Supervisor Hillary Ronen on Sept. 19 that would have created decentralized police units at each station to fight property crime.

The supervisors pulled back on the legislation Oct. 4 after facing opposition from Scott. But Yee said the supervisors are working on a new plan meant to focus specific staff at each station on property crime.

“We’re close to completing all the details,” Yee said.

Officer Robert Rueca, a San Francisco police spokesperson, defended the current efforts of the department while acknowledging the increase in auto burglaries.

“We can’t say that the increased foot patrol is a failure just because there is an increase in auto burglaries,” Rueca said.

When Scott dissolved the centralized unit focused on property crime and doubled foot patrols, Rueca said the chief also bolstered plainclothes teams at every district station that include auto burglary arrests among their top priorities.

Rueca said Central Station plainclothes and uniformed officers made 140 auto-burglary arrests between April and September.

Rueca said the increase in car break-ins is “not from a lack of arrests and it’s not from a lack of police presence.

“It’s from another factor that we believe we have the pulse on,” he said.

Rueca said that factor is serial auto burglars or groups of serial auto burglars who have not been caught and continue to commit the crimes.

“The people that are committing these crimes is not a fixed number,” Rueca said. “It’s constantly changing.”

As for next year, Rueca could not say whether The City should expect a decrease in car break-ins.

“That’s one of the goals that we are trying to achieve, but it’s hard to tell the community what they should expect,” Rueca said. “What they should expect is hopefully a quicker response to calls, a bigger police presence in busier corridors.”

City legislators have also taken aim at rental car break-ins to decrease the problem.

In September, the Board of Supervisors passed two pieces of legislation from board President London Breed and Yee requiring rental companies to educate their customers on preventing car break-ins and to obscure their vehicles from auto burglars by removing advertisements.

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