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Gascon calls for task force to ‘end’ car break-in epidemic

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George Gascon (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner, 2015)

Seeking to put an end to the car break-in problem in San Francisco by the end of the year, District Attorney George Gascon announced a plan Wednesday to create an auto burglary task force focused on prosecuting serial auto burglars.

Gascon said his office is requesting a $1 million budget to assemble a task force of prosecutors, investigators and analysts within the Crime Strategies Unit who will connect the dots between separate auto burglaries and identify serial offenders.

“This is really a way for all of us to come together and to make sure that we end this problem this year,” Gascon said at a Hall of Justice news conference, adding that he expects to see a 20 percent reduction in car break-ins if the Board of Supervisors and mayor approve his budget request. “That is our goal.”

Gascon said “a very small number of people” within organized crime rings are responsible for the majority of the more than 30,000 auto burglaries reported to police in San Francisco last year.

“If we can deal with those organizations, we will be able to have a very impactful result in dealing with this crime,” Gascon said.

Gascon’s proposal is only the latest attempt to attack the car break-in problem.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott has unfurled a number of efforts, doubling foot beats around The City and dedicating officers at each station to the issue. The SFPD has an under 2 percent arrest rate for auto burglaries.

The Board of Supervisors has passed legislation requiring car rental companies to remove markings that make it obvious a car is a rental. Serial auto burglars are known to stalk high tourist areas, driving stolen vehicles and busting the windows of rental cars to snatch luggage or other visible items in a matter of moments.

A recent case in the Bay Area is also emblematic of a larger problem: serial auto burglars may have international connections. In January, Fremont police allegedly uncovered a massive crime scheme with fenced goods stolen from cars around the Bay Area and shipped to Vietnam.

Eight people were charged in the alleged scheme including Carlos Paz, 28, of San Francisco, who is accused buying and selling the stolen goods.

The District Attorney’s Office identified Paz as an alleged fence more than two years ago and notified police, but Gascon said that information “was not acted upon at the time, and we’re trying to correct those issues.”

The proposed task force would be able to investigate and prosecute such suspects.

Gascon also announced two other strategies to curb car break-ins.

Gascon launched a hotline and website to report auto burglaries to the District Attorney’s Office and encouraged residents to register private security cameras. Gascon said victims should still file police reports.

Responding to Gascon’s proposal, police department spokesman David Stevenson said, “We continue to work collaboratively with all of our law enforcement partners in San Francisco to address crime.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

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