Thieves sack religious centers

With desperate times calling for desperate measures, hard-up burglars are looting churches in San Francisco at an alarming rate, police said.

A staggering trend of unholy heists has particularly struck The City’s southwestern neighborhoods, where nearly a dozen burglaries at six churches were reported between mid-August and mid-September, said Lt. Jerry DeFilippo, head of investigations at the Taraval Police Station.

“With the tough economic times right now … we are seeing more burglaries across the board,” he said. “People are hurt and they’re getting whatever they can wherever they can.”

Only a few theft reports during the monthlong string appear to be connected to the same person, and some could be the result of homeless outreach efforts done at a church, DeFilippo said.

One burglar broke a window at the Parkside Gospel Chapel on Santiago Street and stole $5 and change from the donations box, he said. At New Life Church on Ulloa Street, two acoustic guitars and a bass guitar were swiped in a window-smashing robbery, DeFilippo said.

A computer was stolen during a heist at Grace United Methodist Church on Taraval Street, police said. And St. Francis Episcopal Church on San Fernando Way has dealt with the most break-ins — five since August.

New Life Church was burglarized in August and again at some point between Sunday and Tuesday, the Rev. Jeff Mammen said. Musical equipment and a laptop have been stolen. Mammen said the uptick in thefts has his parish’s leadership considering installing a new security system. The church already installed security lighting, he said.

“It’s a pretty quiet area; there’s hardly anything going on up there,” Mammen said. “We’ve probably taken some liberties because of that.”

At St. Francis Church, the kitchen and YMCA preschool were each hit twice, and the rector’s office once, said parish administrator Christine Jugueta. Food from the fridge and a laptop were among the items stolen, she said. A thief broke a window in one incident.

“Apparently, one of the intruders had been making regular appearances for a year, often taking food from the kitchen refrigerator,” Jugueta said.

The church, located in the attractive residential Balboa Terrace neighborhood, has endured plenty of unwanted guests, she said.

There have been about five separate incidents in which a church intruder harassed ministers and volunteers for money, hurled racial slurs at teachers or acted aggressively around parishioners, Jugueta said.

Thefts at the church are not unusual given its open-door policy, she said. The church’s public meetings, thrift shop and preschool bring in a lot of foot traffic, Jugueta said. The parish lacks high security and volunteers and staff sometimes forget to lock up, she said.

But the thefts are happening at an alarming rate, Jugueta said.

“For a while there, we had something to deal with every week,” she said.

Jugueta speculated that thieves are spreading the word that the area’s churches have lax security, leading to an uptick in burglaries.

St. Francis may be in a nice area of San Francisco, but it’s still in The City and it sits along a public transit corridor, Jugueta said.

If the parish had its way, it would have police make regular rounds around the property, be included in neighborhood-watch programs, have volunteers provide security, or receive enough donations for a better security system, Jugueta said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

 

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