Crime Trends Largely Static through the First Quarter of the Year

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One-quarter of San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) incident reports in Potrero Hill and Dogpatch so far this year have involved vehicle larceny.

Other robberies, including bike theft and stolen packages, made up 11 percent of SFPD reports in the neighborhoods. Eight percent involved motor vehicle thefts, with seven percent associated with burglaries. The percent distribution is comparable to what occurred during 2019.

Through March 20, there were 120 vehicle break-ins on the Hill, which SFPD defines as everything west of Highway 101 from 16th Street to Cesar Chavez. There have been 10 additional instances of license plate theft and three reports of vehicles being stripped, one a motorcycle. Another car was targeted by arson.

Thirty-one of these incidents occurred on or within a block of 18th Street, the most common crime corridor. Mariposa Street also had two hot spots, with seven cases taking place near Rhode Island Street and seven more around Mississippi and Pennsylvania streets. Eighteen others happened on or near 19th Street; 16 along 20th Street.

There were 14 vehicle larcenies around San Francisco General Hospital, a dozen in Showplace Square and 16 in Mission Bay, half of which were around Fourth and Long Bridge streets.

Vehicle break-ins have long besieged San Francisco, reaching a high of 31,000 in 2017. In 2019 the number fell to 25,677 but at 58 a day it still ranks as the City’s most common crime. Most break-ins occur around tourist destinations but last year 8,900 involved cars registered in San Francisco.

As to prevention, Sargeant Michael Andraychak, SFPD Public Information Officer, pointed to the department’s Park Smart campaign, which bears the motto, “If you love it, don’t leave it.” Cell phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, luggage, shopping bags, wallets, purses, backpacks and even sunglasses, are common items that draw thieves’ attention. And police advise not to rely on trunks for security. 

The campaign also advises, “The key to parked safety are in your hands!” According to SFPD, a sizable number of thefts involve unlocked vehicles, although whether the thief unlocked the car after breaking in is often difficult to ascertain. Making that determination has created problems in prosecuting the few culprits that get caught. If a vehicle isn’t locked the crime drops to a misdemeanor. A bill introduced by Senator Scott Wiener in 2018 to close the loophole stalled in the State Senate Appropriations Committee. 

That bill had been co-sponsored by San Francisco’s former District Attorney George Gascón, who requested $1 million in City funds for an auto burglary task force in 2018, an appeal that was turned down by then Mayor Mark Farrell. Current District Attorney Chesa Boudin is seeking $1.7 million in the 2020-21 budget to reimburse San Francisco residents for windows shattered by thieves. The initiative involves hiring two people to process claims, with $1.5 million used for reimbursement.

During his campaign for office, Boudin suggested the creation of a mobile auto-glass repair operation which, via a public-private partnership, could respond directly to crime scenes within three hours. Boudin hasn’t made cuts to his proposed budget to make room for the program, however, and it’ll likely be an uphill battle to secure funding. In December, Mayor London Breed asked City departments for 3.5 percent reductions in each of the next two fiscal years due to a projected $420 million shortfall, which is likely to grow given emerging economic hard times.

Another strategy, pushed by District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton along with District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, is to institute more police foot patrols. A 2018 study by the California Police Lab and University of California, Berkeley, The Effect of Redeploying Police Officers from Plain Clothes Special Assignment to Uniformed Foot-Beat Patrols on Street Crime, found a 17 percent decrease in larcenies and 19 percent decrease in assaults after Police Chief Bill Scott reassigned 69 officers to foot patrols in 2017. SFPD has maintained that foot patrol decisions should be made at the station level, insisting that such an  approach provides for a better ability to balance perambulations with the need for quick responses to 911 calls.

Authorities believe most vehicle break-ins are conducted by sophisticated gangs who have fencing operations across the state. A smaller number, according to the district attorney’s office, are committed by homeless and addicted people due to poverty or desperation.

As far as other crime on the Hill, there have been 33 burglaries so far this year, eight occurring within four blocks on or near 20th Street between Rhode Island and Wisconsin streets. Five others were near 22nd Street from Carolina to Connecticut streets. Eight occurred along the 18th Street corridor, four west of Interstate-280 and the other four on Third Street.

Of the 32 motor vehicles theft calls police received this year, six were recovered shortly after being reported. Thefts were scattered throughout the Hill and Dogpatch.

Also dispersed around the neighborhood were 10 robberies committed either by force or with a weapon.

The Hill has lower reports of drug offences compared to the rest of San Francisco, just four this year, and sex crimes, none since 2019, when four cases related to child pornography were filed.

“We recommend that the public to be aware of their surroundings, not become distracted by phones and music players and keep valuables out of sight whether walking or on public transit,” advised Andraychak. “When using ATMs, maintain awareness of your surroundings and shield the PIN from view.  If you’re not home to receive packages and to avoid package theft; consider having packages held for pickup at the shipper, use drop off storage lockers, ship to your employer or have packages shipped to neighbor or friend.”