Law enforcement officials in San Francisco recovered $2 million worth of suspected stolen property in a recent crackdown on fencing rings, Interim San Francisco District Attorney Suzy Loftus announced Thursday.
The operation, called “Operation Focus Lens,” involved several law enforcement agencies and resulted in 30 warrants served in San Francisco this week. It is designed to reduce theft by eliminating the black markets where stolen goods are bought and sold, ultimately removing one of the incentives for breaking into autos and homes and stealing from stores.
“What creates an incentive to break into cars and to break into homes is if you can quickly turn whatever you stole into money, and a fencing operation makes that possible,” Loftus said. “It really fuels the property crime that we’re seeing in San Francisco.”
Electronics like smartphones, tablets, laptops and digital cameras made up the bulk of the recovered items on display at the District Attorney’s Office Thursday but designer handbags, assorted clothing, toiletries and laundry detergent were also among the stolen goods.
San Francisco has the highest rate of property crime per capita in the U.S. Auto burglaries spiked in 2017 when police recorded more than 31,000 cases. Though that number has continued to decrease over the last two years, San Francisco is still seeing an average of 70 car break-ins per day, Loftus said.
Operation Focus Lens involves the DA’s Office, San Francisco Police and Sheriff’s departments, California Highway Patrol, BART Police Department, the state Department of Justice and others. Retail partners included Macy’s, Target, CVS Pharmacy and Victoria’s Secret.
According to SFPD Chief Bill Scott, the effects of property crimes in the City present a problem for more than just San Franciscans.
“This is a worldwide problem,” Scott said. “We have people coming from all over the world here and it really sickens me when people come here to visit our great city and they get victimized.”
The fencing operation under investigation appears to be sophisticated in nature, Loftus said, pointing to anti-surveillance techniques used by those storing stolen electronics. There were also signs of an electronics “chop shop” where digital products were dismantled and sold for parts.
“Many of the phones recovered were wrapped in aluminum foil in a bin to avoid detection,” she said. “There are other signs from this operation that show it’s a sophisticated approach.”
Loftus said officers also raided a storage facility that belonged to a suspect and found approximately $750,000 worth of tagged clothing items from retail stores.
In all, 30 warrants have been served so far in Operation Focus Lens, she said.
Karin Flood, executive director of the Union Square Business Improvement District said her group assisted authorities with video surveillance provided by its network of 375 security cameras.
“With that network we are able to often tell a story of what happened,” Flood said. “We can see maybe the approach, the crime taking place, the getaway. We can see who the people are, who they were with earlier that day and really start to piece together the story of what happened, and to help the police officers and the DA’s Office in solving those cases.”
The DA’s Office is also hoping to reunite robbery victims with their stolen belongings.
Anyone who has had their cellphone or laptop stolen in The City is encouraged to call 628-652-4343 to report their stolen property and provide the serial or IMEI number.