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San Francisco neighborhood with most car break-ins has tourists taking steps to dodge crime

North Beach, including Fisherman’s Wharf, is the city’s worst affected neighborhood for car break-ins according to police incident reports. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Shattered glass on the street and broken car windows are not an uncommon sight in San Francisco—the city clocked over 22,000 thefts from vehicles last year, according to police data.

The tourism-friendly North Beach neighborhood, which includes Fisherman’s Wharf and is famous for its Italian restaurants, old-school bars and storied cafes, is the worst for car break-ins in San Francisco, according to police incident report data analyzed by The Standard and broken down by neighborhood. 

There were 190 thefts from vehicles in North Beach in the past 30 days as of July 14, according to police incident reports data. There were 2,432 incidents in the 12 months before July 14, 2023, compared with 1,611 during the same time period ending in July 2019.

Citywide, the number of theft from vehicle incidents has dropped since pre-pandemic 2019, from 288 to 269 incidents per 10,000 residents.

READ MORE: ‘30 Cars a Day’: Thieves Target Bay Area Rental Cars

The five neighborhoods in San Francisco with the highest number of car break-ins per 10,000 residents in the 12 months prior to July 14, 2023, are:

  • North Beach: 2,285.
  • Japantown: 1,835.
  • Presidio: 1,329.
  • Russian Hill: 862.
  • Financial District/South Beach: 790.
San Francisco police patrol near Washington Square on Columbus Avenue in North Beach on Wednesday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

‘They Aren’t Going to Come’

Jose Luis, a cashier at Buster’s Cheesesteak, said car break-ins around North Beach have drastically affected the Columbus Avenue business.

“It’s clear as day. The tourists see all of the damage the thieves cause, and of course, they aren’t going to come,” Luis said. “In all honesty, this business has gone down because of this.”

Staff at Gemme Verdi, a North Beach dispensary, said thieves in the area usually target open-air parking lots and places where tourists often park.

“If you go up the Lombard Street hill, that’s where you’ll find a lot of the ‘bipping’ around here,” said one dispensary worker, who declined to be named for fear of being targeted. “Of course, there’s stuff that happens on the regular streets, but there are also those areas that locals know not to park at because you will get broken into.”

READ MORE: San Francisco Car Window Repair Shop Gets 25 Calls a Day for Break-Ins

A North Beach corner store owner who also wished to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted told The Standard that he witnessed a person break into a car in the middle of the day in May.

“The car pulled next to the parked car, and someone broke the window before stealing everything and driving away,” he said. “It definitely affects the reputation San Francisco has as a place with a lot of thefts from cars.”

The city’s reputation for frequent “bipping”—a local term used to describe car break-ins—has prompted Supervisor Dean Preston to call for a special hearing to see what city officials and the police are doing to combat the issue.

Broken car glass is seen on the ground near the sidewalk on Clay and Sansome streets on Wednesday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“Despite many announcements, the city has made no noticeable progress in addressing this persistent issue,” Preston said in a press release, adding that a hearing may come soon during the Board of Supervisor’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

International tourists and businesses who spoke with The Standard around North Beach last Wednesday had mixed feelings about crime in the area. Some said they took steps to protect themselves while visiting and knew not to leave anything on display in their vehicles. Others were unaware of the rampant theft issue.

Canadian tourists Zach and Courtney Banda decided to use public transit or walk around the city during their Union Square stay. They also opted not to wander around San Francisco late at night.

“We’re not from here, but it kinda feels like we are with how easy the city has been to navigate,” Zach said. “We haven’t run into any crazy situations but planned ahead of time to hopefully avoid anything like that.”

passenger side car window shattered
A passenger-side window is shattered in San Francisco on March 1, 2023. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Matthew O’Reilly, who was visiting San Francisco from Florida’s West Palm Beach with his wife and two sons, said he initially had concerns about visiting the city but has tried to combat his uneasiness with careful planning.

“My friend, who we are going to visit in Sacramento, gave us a protocol,” he said. “We made sure to park our car in an enclosed parking garage. I feel better that it’s in there. I didn’t want to play around; we are only here for a day.”

German tourists Samet Kocabay and his wife, Ronja, were also visiting San Francisco for the first time during a trip that included stops in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The couple said they were unaware of the city’s reputation as a hot spot for property crime as they boarded the cable cars near the intersection of Taylor and Bay streets.

“It is our first full day here,” Kocabay said. “We haven’t felt uneasy about our safety so far. The only complaint we have is that it’s kind of cold.”

A group of people cross Columbus Avenue in North Beach on Wednesday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

The San Francisco Police Department declined to comment for this story when asked about what measures were being taken to address car break-ins in North Beach and citywide. 

A masked vigilante, who runs a business in North Beach, was recently arrested on suspicion of carrying an imitation firearm around the neighborhood in the hopes of scaring off would-be thieves. 

“We understand everyone’s frustration. Officers are frustrated in taking the number of police reports regarding auto burglaries occurring throughout the city,” said San Francisco Police Department spokesman Robert Rueca in a TV interview about the vigilante known as “Boots.”

Rueca asked members of the public not to intervene when they witness crimes.