Southside residents have been frustrated by the perceived lack of police attention to the relentless vehicle thefts and burglaries from cars, with attendant smashed windows. In January, the latest month for which data is available, the San Francisco Police Department received reports of 75 automobile thefts and 95 burglaries from vehicles located in in the Bayview District. At least 67 auto thefts and 120 burglaries from vehicles occurred in December.
“One’s perception is their reality,” former Bayview Station police captain Robert O’Sullivan said. O’Sullivan was promoted to Golden Gate Patrol Division commander in late March.
O’Sullivan had received regular emails from business owners and residents about thefts in the area. The now commander cited three strategies the police are using to halt vehicle-related crimes. SFPD and American Industrial Center management are collaborating on strategies to catch auto burglars and vandals in the blocks bound by 20th, 23rd, Third, and Illinois streets, a hot spot for car thefts. In March officers arrested five individuals for auto theft. Before he moved to his new position O’Sullivan increased patrols in Dogpatch and dispatched plainclothes officers toi this area.
According to the commander, police resources dedicated to Potrero Hill include a patrol unit on every watch, four officers stationed at the Potrero Terrace-Annex housing complex, and two plainclothes teams. Bayview Station also dispatches a unit with an automated license plate reader (LPR) that alerts officers to stolen vehicles. Officers deploy the LPR to recover stolen vehicles and gather information. Through use of the device police identified an auto theft ring, obtained search warrants and recovered vehicles and property. O’Sullivan required police units with LPRs be in operation around the clock.
Raj Vaswani assumed captainship of the Bayview Station last month. Vaswani was previously the Park Station commanding officer; the new post reflects a lateral move.
O’Sullivan pointed-out that thieves are getting more sophisticated at their craft. For instance, two suspects recently broke into a car at 22nd and Illinois streets. When officers responded they found one suspect using an app to listen to the police scanner. Auto thieves are also organizing themselves into groups of three or more people, with get-away cars of their own. Some groups are gang-affiliated. Five to seven years ago, O’Sullivan said, thieves were principally addicts who stole cars to get money to buy drugs.
Auto thefts are up 14 percent from last year, while burglaries from vehicles are down 11 percent from a year ago. Through March 29, car thefts had increased to 154 in the past 12 months in the Bayview District, compared with 139 during the 12 months through March 29, 2014. Burglaries from vehicles were down four percent.
The commander encouraged vehicle owners to install a locking device to prevent thefts. He added that it’s important to not leave anything of value inside a vehicle. If an item must be left inside O’Sullivan recommended that it be put in the trunk before leaving for a trip; thieves watch common destinations for drivers moving valuable property to a vehicle’s trunk.