Auto break-ins on the rise at the beach

Smash-and-grab auto burglars have recently turned their attention to the streets lining the ocean, preying on surfers and tourists who head to the beach, according to authorities.

Police said Tuesday that auto burglaries are plaguing the Western Addition, La Playa Street near the Great Highway and The Embarcadero between Fisherman’s Wharf and Howard Street, Lt. Michael Biel said.

Smash-and-grabs have decreased in the last two years, police said, but there are still more than 1,000 cars broken into every month. There were 14,058 reports of auto break-ins in The City in 2007. In 2006, there were more than 15,000 reports.

On Tuesday, police played a video of a sting operation to show how quickly an auto thief can pull devices such as dashboard GPS systems, iPods and phones if they’re left in the open. The video shows a man breaking into a police decoy vehicle parked near St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Western Addition.

The auto break-in took less than 90 seconds, and according to police, an auto burglar can sell the goods in a high foot-traffic area within an hour.

“Unfortunately, there are many people in our society and our communities here that will buy property at a low price and really not take into consideration that these items are stolen or maybe they don’t care that these items are stolen,” Biel said.

The ability to use police testimony is a major part of convicting auto burglars, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors had their hands tied before because defendants would claim they just found whatever stolen goods they were carrying on the street.

The crime is probably one of the most underreported in The City, according to police, meaning there could be many more that police never hear about.

“This is a crime that’s very frustrating for the Police Department because 99 percent of offenses are preventable,” Deputy police Chief Kevin Cashman said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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