A driver with a broken window turns his BMW from Mason Street onto Beach Street near Fisherman's Wharf on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Car break-ins drop 14 percent as SFPD tries new approach

Police Chief Bill Scott touted a plan to cut down on car break-ins Wednesday that he said has already been successful in two police districts.

At a Board of Supervisors committee hearing, the chief said that he will expand the strategy for curbing auto burglaries being used at Taraval and Mission stations to all 10 police districts in San Francisco next month.

Scott and then-acting Mayor London Breed first said in January that police would create what were described as “dedicated teams” focused on property crime at district stations.

However, the plan seems to largely consist of labeling the lieutenant in charge of the special investigation team at each station as a “property crime liaison.” The liaison creates strategies for fighting auto burglaries, assigns cases for further investigation and works with the neighborhood prosecutor.

“Other stations, they’ve been doing similar things,” Deputy Chief Michael Redmond later told the San Francisco Examiner. “It just hasn’t been formal.”

Scott explained that the San Francisco Police Department does not have specialized units at each station like in Los Angeles, where he previously worked. Stations there have some 60 investigators in auto crimes or burglary units, whereas here they have five to six investigators.

“I came from a department that was very specialized,” Scott said at the hearing. “We’re not that. We don’t have that type of size. Our investigators are generalists and that coordinator’s responsibility is to take what we have and point them toward how we are going to reduce this issue.”

There were more than 30,000 auto burglaries reported in San Francisco in 2017. The most recent crime statistics available show the number of reported car break-ins has fallen by 14 percent from 22,934 at the end of last September to 19,694 as of the end of last month.

So far this year, Taraval Station has seen a 21 percent drop in reported auto burglaries from 1,362 to 1,080. The police district includes the Sunset and the area around Lake Merced.

Mission Station, which includes the Mission District and Castro, has seen an increase of six percent from 2,210 to 2,342.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen questioned the new strategy at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee hearing.

“We’re not having the same success in the Mission that we are in the Taraval,” Ronen said. “This statistics would tend to suggest to me that having this focused attention on this station isn’t making a difference while in Taraval it is.”

But Scott still called the increase a success, as Mission Station had reported an 86 percent increase in auto burglaries at the end of last September compared to that time in 2016.

“Now we’re at six, which is not by any means ideal but I want to make sure that we understand how much progress that is,” Scott said.

The SFPD has tried different strategies to crack down on auto burglaries for years.

Last October, Scott disbanded a property crime task force and instead used the resources to double foot beats at district stations. In November, the chief created a General Crimes Unit to focus on burglaries, car break-ins and bicycle thefts.

The new strategies came around the time that Ronen and Supervisor Norman Yee proposed legislation that would have required Scott to assign officers to property crime units.

But the supervisors agreed to drop the legislation with the understanding that the chief would assign officers to fight property crimes without the mandate.

The hearing was held Wednesday because Ronen and Yee passed a resolution last year calling on the SFPD to report on auto burglary statistics regularly.

The SFPD will next report in January 2019.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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