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San Francisco offers $100,000 cash rewards to bust criminal fencing rackets

San Francisco is offering awards of up to $100,000 for individuals who report information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in criminal rings that fuel auto burglaries, a type of crime common to many of the city’s tourist areas

Mayor London Breed and Police Chief Bill Scott presented the initiative in Fisherman’s Wharf on Tuesday as part of an ongoing effort to assure tourists of the city’s safety amid a national media focus on crime in San Francisco. Privately-owned businesses in the hospitality and tourism sectors are funding the award program, which has accrued $225,000 so far. 

A shattered window of a car on Folsom Street in the Mission District on October 19, 2021.

“I’ll be honest, one of my car break–ins, I didn’t even bother to report it,” Breed said. “We don’t want you to put yourself in harm’s way. But if you’re paying attention and you see any information, and you’re able to share that information with us — that’s important.”  

An increase in reports of theft — a crime that is believed to be widely underreported — would enable SFPD to build a more cohesive data set when pursuing organized criminal fencing organizations. In September, Scott said that SFPD plans to upgrade its online reporting system, Coplogic, potentially triggering an increase in theft reports. 

“We weren’t as accurate as we felt we should be in our reporting and data collection,” Scott said on Tuesday. “Today’s announcement adds a promising new tool to the coordinated efforts of public and private sector partners to fight auto burglaries in San Francisco.” 

Less than 3% of reported larceny theft cases in 2021 have resulted in an arrest, according to Data SF.  Breed reiterated a message that perpetrators must be held accountable, at times addressing thieves directly. 

Mayor Breed at the press conference on October 19, 2021.

“San Francisco has afforded so many people an extraordinary opportunity to make a decent and honest living,” Breed said, noting open positions at SFMTA and at businesses across the city. “You don’t have to do this…But once you’ve crossed that line, we have a responsibility to the public to make sure that people feel safe.”

The initiative comes three months after the deployment of 26 additional patrol officers in tourist-centric districts, including Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square. Scott touted the increased patrols as the reason for a 37% decrease in auto break–ins since July 4. 

“Just last week we had Fleet Week, we had the Giants playoff games and we had events at the Chase Center,” Scott said. “People came here and enjoyed themselves, and that’s what we want. That’s why we’re doing this work.” 

Sharky Laguana, president of the Small Business Commission, suggested at the press conference that most cases of car break–ins are a result of organized fencing operations, pointing to an Oct. 2020 bust that uncovered over $8 million worth of stolen goods across multiple warehouses. Operators of that fencing operation were allegedly reselling the goods on eBay, Amazon and other marketplaces.  

“I first met the mayor when we were working together on auto burglary issues. I’ll never forget what she said to me: ‘Sharky, we’re going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at this,’” Laguana said. “Well, here comes the kitchen sink.” 

In addition to incentivizing victims to report instances of theft, Scott presented the initiative as part of a comprehensive effort to educate motorists and visitors on the dangers of leaving valuables in their cars. 

“Don’t leave valuables in your car, particularly visible, because these are the folks that are being victimized the most,” Scott said. “When people are resilient and vigilant about not making themselves easy targets, we’ve seen these crimes go down because there’s nothing to steal.”