Police busting San Francisco's onslaught of car burglaries

A joint effort between police, prosecutors and the Mayor’s Office has yielded results in one of The City’s most overlooked crime issues: smash-and-grab car burglaries.

Also known as “boosts,” car burglaries are a significant problem in San Francisco: In 2006, there were more than 15,000 incidents — an average of 41 per day — prompting the Mayor’s Office to convene a special car-boosting task force to combat the growing problem.

Taking a proactive route, the police conducted surveillance in addition to responding to calls from car owners. On Sept. 9, eight officers specifically targeted the most vulnerable areas in The City and conducted stings.

It’s a new approach to an old problem, said police Lt. Dave Lazar, who coordinates the police surveillance. Lazar said the department has tried many tactics over the years, and focusing on these burglaries seems to be paying off.

The team has arrested 34 people, according to department spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina, which has contributed to a 22 percent drop in incidents reported between October of this year and October 2006.

“By arresting one person, we prevent at least 10 to 20 [break-ins] per week,” Lazar said. “One person doesn’t break into just one car. They move on and target more.”

The district attorney also committed resources, with an assistant district attorney dedicated to car thefts. Spokeswoman Bilen Mesfin said it’s part of a renewed emphasis on quality-of-life crimes and that prosecutors plan to get repeat and professional car burglars off the streets.

Prosecutors and police said one of the interesting aspects of car thefts is that there are a small number of offenders committing the crimes — and most are repeat offenders.

On Monday, one repeat offenders went in front of a San Francisco Superior Court judge. Joshua Carroll, who has two felony car burglary convictions already, was arraigned on two counts of auto burglary and possession of stolen property.

Police said they saw him smash the window of a four-door Lexus sedan Wednesday and pull out one of the most common targets of auto boosters — a GPS navigation system.

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.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the Mayor’s Office, said Mayor Gavin Newsom is looking forward to coordinating more efforts like these.

Bad places to park

October 2006: 1,373 auto thefts reported

October 2007: 1,068 auto thefts reported

Streets the San Francisco Police Department is targeting for car break-in busts:

» Folsom Street

» Mission Street

» Tenth and Ninth streets

» Lombard Street

» Bush Street

» Golden Gate Avenue

» Franklin Street

» Post Street

» Geary Street and Boulevard

» Laguna Street

» Market Street

» Page Street

» Masonic Avenue

» Areas around the War Memorial Opera House and downtown theaters were also targeted.

Source: SFPD, Mayor’s Office

bbegin@examiner.com

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