Nabbing burglars is no easy feat

Just before midnight, two men on bicycles rode up to a car parked on a dark Parkmerced street. One smashed the window before both began ransacking the vehicle for valuables.

An off-duty officer called police and within minutes both thieves were in handcuffs, Ingleside Police Station Lt. Tom Clary said when recalling the incident.

Vehicle break-ins may be as frequent as foggy days in The City, but arrests like Wednesday night’s are extraordinarily rare.

Those who break in to vehicles rarely face consequences, according to Police Department statistics. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 7,130 auto burglaries in San Francisco were reported to police. Arrests were made in only 4 percent of them.

The frequency of break-ins is down slightly from the same period last year, when 8,408 were reported, also with a 4 percent arrest rate. However, police acknowledge that the actual number of auto burglaries is much higher.

“I wouldn’t doubt it’s underreported. People go through their insurance or just pay out of pocket,” Clary said. “We want them to report it so we know where they’re happening and where to put our resources.”

San Francisco police Sgt. Lyn Tomioka said the difficulty in catching the burglar often comes down to simple details — the crime is committed in the middle of the night and perpetrators can spot patrol cars before being spotted by officers.

Carlos Ventura, a 30-year-old graphic designer, said he wasn’t terribly surprised when he recently found his window shattered after parking his Mazda at Fourth and Townsend streets, two blocks from his apartment.

“I see smashed windows all the time there, but I left it for the weekend. The glass was all over the place,” he said. The thief, who hit several other cars in the area, rifled through Ventura’s glove box, but found nothing to steal.

“It’s very hard to track these people down, even if there’s a camera. They come in the middle of the night and run away,” he said.

Of those who are caught, about 79 percent are prosecuted. If convicted, sentences vary widely — a car burglar can be released after being sentenced to time served or be sent to state prison for several years.

Auto burglary can either be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, and prosecutors make the decision based on a suspect’s criminal history, Assistant District Attorney Brian Buckelew said.

If slapped with a felony charge, suspects face up to three years behind bars. A misdemeanor typically earns a short stint in County Jail or a rehabilitation program.

Many suspects are drug addicts and chronic offenders, Buckelew said. The vast majority of them enter into deals in which they plead guilty in exchange for reduced sentences.

Escaping punishment

Auto burglars in San Francisco are rarely caught in the act.

Auto burglaries reported to police (Jan. 1 to Aug. 31)
2009    7,130
2008    8,408

People arrested on suspicion of auto burglary (Jan. 1 to Aug. 31)
2009    298 (4 percent)
2008    305 (4 percent)

Perpetrators who were prosecuted
2009    234 (79 percent)
2008    238 (78 percent)
Source: Police Department

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

auto burglariesBay Area NewsCrimeCrime & CourtsLocalSan Francisco

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Parents and students line up socially distanced before the first day of in-person learning at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
‘It’s a beautiful sight’: The first students return to the classroom

San Francisco’s youngest public school students stepped into classrooms for in-person learning… Continue reading

File
Latest Breed nominee for Police Commission moves forward

Immigration attorney Jim Byrne clears Board of Supervisors committee

San Francisco Giants pitcher Anthony DeSclafani (26) starts against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park on April 11, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Giants finish sweep of Rockies behind DeSclafani’s scoreless outing

Even with fans back at Oracle Park, San Francisco Giants pitchers have… Continue reading

Kindergarten teacher Chris Johnson in his classroom at Bryant Elementary School ahead of the school’s reopening on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFUSD students are going back to the classroom

After more than a year of distance learning, city schools begin reopening on Monday

Keith Zwölfer, director of education for SFFILM, stays busy connecting filmmakers and studios with public, private and home schools<ins>. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner) </ins>
Streamlined SF film festival focuses on family features

SFFILM Director of Education Keith Zwölfer finds movies that appeal to kids

Most Read