SF’s plan to deter auto burglars from rental cars moves forward

Rental cars may soon be indistinguishable to auto burglars looking for an easy target under new legislation that San Francisco is likely to adopt after police data recently showed car break-ins are soaring in The City.

Two proposals requiring rental car companies to help curb the uptick in auto burglaries in San Francisco moved forward Wednesday at a Board of Supervisors committee. Auto burglars often target rental cars because tourists are more likely to leave their valuables unattended and less likely to report crimes.

One proposal, from Supervisor Norman Yee, would require companies like Enterprise and Hertz to remove advertising from their vehicles and hide sticker barcodes from plain sight.

The other, from Board of Supervisors President London Breed, would require the companies to educate tourists on locking their doors and removing their valuables from rental cars.

“It is our utmost goal to curb the number of car break-ins in San Francisco,” Yee said. “This is just one of those solutions.”

The San Francisco Examiner first reported Aug. 31 that car break-ins had increased by the 1,000s in 2017. Later that day, Police Chief Bill Scott announced that police would double foot patrols citywide.

The numbers showed that there were about 4,000 more car break-ins from January through July 2017 than in those same months last year. There were 17,970 reported car break-ins citywide as of July.

At least one car rental company is already on board with the latest proposals.

Brian Rothery of Enterprise Holdings, which operates the Enterprise, Alamo and National car rental brands, said that the company is “prepared to do our part.”

“We’ve already begun the process to comply,” Rothery said.

Rothery said the company began to notify customers of auto burglaries in June through emails and signage, and has also started to train employees to talk with customers about the issue.

While the latest proposals focus on rental cars, Yee and Supervisor Hillary Ronen also plan to reintroduce legislation to create neighborhood units focusing on car break-ins in general. The mayor vetoed similar legislation last October.

“I was thrilled to hear that Chief Scott has committed to more foot beats,” Ronen said. “But that alone I don’t believe is going to address the epidemic of car break-ins in our city. We need specific, targeted units focused on this problem.”

Scott’s announcement on the doubling of foot patrols represented a shift in the San Francisco Police Department’s crime strategy from enforcement to prevention. The department disbanded a plainclothes task force assigned to car break-ins to increase the number of officers on the streets.

The Police Department is currently reexamining the number of officers it strives to hire.

“There’s a feeling and sentiment amongst the department and the community that there are not enough police officers,” said Police Cmdr. David Lazar. “We need to hire more officers.”

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy also called for more police officers because of the uptick in car break-ins. Sheehy pointed to the decline in auto burglaries at the Twin Peaks lookout after police increased foot patrols in the area in response to a recent homicide there.

“If we look at what happened at Twin Peaks we know that if we put officers on foot in the area, auto break-ins will go down,” Sheehy said. “We have evidence in front of us that we need more officers.”

Just one car break-in happened there in the month after a 71-year-old photographer was shot and killed during a robbery in July, according to police. On the average month, 44 car break-ins are reported at Twin Peaks.
Yee also said that the Recreation and Park Department installed 26 cameras at the Twin Peaks lookout after the homicide.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the car rental proposals next Tuesday.

Michael Barba
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Michael Barba

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