Juvenile diversion bandits arrested in S.F.

A quick-handed band of juvenile thieves descended on a local art school campus late last month, stripping students and faculty of valuables in a free-for-all of banditry.

The six juvenile suspects allegedly rushed into the Academy of Art University campus at 2300 Stockton St. on July 31 and raided the halls — stealing wallets, iPods and cell phones. But a janitor who was working at the time of the incident followed the culprits and helped police make an arrest.

The so-called “diversionary” burglary technique is not uncommon, San Francisco police Sgt. Steve Mannina said Tuesday. It consists of a group, usually juveniles, entering a store, creating a diversion, then stealing merchandise while the staff is distracted.

“They’re generally juveniles that are just getting out from school,” Mannina said. “They’re in relatively large groups, and the larger the group, the easier it is for them to pull off this diversionary tactic successfully.”

On June 26 and 27, the Richmond police station received reports that a group of about six juveniles was using the technique at businesses along the Geary and Clement corridors. That group was identified as conducting similar burglaries near Union Square on June 28. Police did not confirm whether the groupfrom the Academy of Art was thought to be the same one, but Academy security director Michael Petricca said Academy buildings in the area were targeted.

The group that stormed the Academy of Art at about 3 p.m. July 31 consisted of three females and three males, according to police. The suspects had just tried the diversion technique at another nearby business at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco police Lt. Robert Moser said.

“The sheer numbers got them past our guard at the front door [of the campus building],” Petricca said Tuesday. “They went up the elevator and scattered and tried to find wallets and purses and valuables. These guys work on speed. They weren’t there more than 2 to 3 minutes before they left.”

Petricca said police apprehended one suspect at The Embarcadero near the 2300 Stockton St. campus. Another four suspects, however, boarded a Muni bus, apparently unaware that a janitor from the Art Academy was following them.

The janitor rode the bus with the suspects, then followed them on foot to another bus, which she also rode with them. She stayed covert, speaking Spanish on her cell phone and keeping the on-duty security guard apprised of the suspects’ movements. The guard translated for police, who stopped the second bus at Fourth and Market streets to arrest the suspects.

Petricca said the Academy is in the process of beefing up its security with key-card entry systems and cameras.

amartin@examiner.com

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