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SFPD dissolves unit investigating rampant car break-ins to increase patrols

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San Francisco is grappling with an epidemic in car break-ins. (Courtesy photo)

A plainclothes unit investigating the epidemic of car break-ins will be disbanded as the San Francisco Police Department increases uniformed foot patrols meant to prevent property crime, Police Chief Bill Scott announced Thursday.

Police brass will dissolve the some 18-member Patrol Bureau Task Force on Saturday and reassign the officers to police stations around San Francisco, Scott said. The task force is responsible for 228 arrests related to car break-ins in San Francisco since it formed in late 2015.

“The bottom line on this is that you will see more officers on foot beats. Expect them to be a deterrent to crime,” Scott said. “We really expect them to get in front of crime as much as we can do that to prevent crime from happening in the first place rather than dealing with it on the back end.”

SEE RELATED: SF car break-ins up by 1,000s, nearly triple in Mission

The news comes as police grapple with a 28 percent uptick in auto burglaries across The City. The San Francisco Examiner reported Thursday that there were 17,970 reported car break-ins this year as of July compared to the 13,995 reported during the same time in 2016.

The increase is a departure from this time last year, when car break-ins were down 18 percent.

“This is just a crime of opportunity at the end of the day,” said Assistant Chief Toney Chaplin. “They’re not any particular demographic. They’re not the homeless. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. But the whole purpose of this is to increase the visible presence out there.”

Deputy Chief Michael Redmond said that “the arrests aren’t going to stop.”

“We are hoping to see arrests continue and even go up based on them going back to the stations and training new officers and putting new operations together, that may be more district specific or cross-district crimes.”

Redmond said that plainclothes districts at every police station will still focus on “hot spots” for car break-ins.

The department has come under fire for at least two recent high-profile deaths stemming from car break-ins.

Kate Steinle was shot and killed with pistol stolen from a federal agent’s car during a string of car break-ins in Fisherman’s Wharf in July 2015. Her death, allegedly at the hands of an undocumented immigrant, is at the center of a debate over immigration laws in Congress.

One of the suspects charged in the July 16 killing of a 71-year-old man at the Twin Peaks lookout has a history of committing auto burglaries.

On Thursday, Scott said the department has ramped up foot patrols at Twin Peaks and seen results. There were about 44 car break-ins at the lookout a month since January, but only one car break-in there between July 17 and Aug. 16.

The department has also “staffed up” in Dolores Park and the Castro.

“We believe that this will have a good impact on our auto burglaries, we’ve seen that in Twin Peaks,” Scott said. “Although anecdotal, we know that cops matter.”

Scott said the reassignments will double foot patrols in several police stations, almost quadruple foot patrols in the Mission District and add foot patrols to Ingleside Station.

Citywide, the department will more than double foot patrols, with “many dozens” more officers on the streets. There will be around 150 officers on foot beats rather than less than 100, Scott said.

“It’s not the magic bullet, we know it’s only a piece of the puzzle, but we believe it will make a difference. This city has a long and historic past of foot patrols and they have been very successful in the past.”

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