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San Francisco police launch crackdown on car break-ins with bait vehicles, more patrols

A sign warns visitors about car break-ins around the Palace of Fine Arts on Thursday. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

San Francisco law enforcement officials gathered outside the Palace of Fine Arts Thursday to announce bolder tactics to crack down on rampant car break-ins, particularly in tourist-heavy neighborhoods.

“We intend to catch people in the act,” SF Police Chief Bill Scott said, noting that police do see a lot of “repeat offenders” committing multiple car break-ins.

Scott laid out a two-pronged approach to combat vehicle break-ins and theft, including setting up bait car operations and increasing police patrols in tourist-heavy areas, specifically at the Palace of Fine Arts, along Lombard Street and in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott speaks to reporters outside the Palace of Fine Arts on Thursday. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Scott said his department would not provide further details about the bait car operations, citing the need to maintain an element of surprise to catch criminals.

“It’s not just property crime; it’s people’s lives that are disrupted,” Scott said, adding that garage break-ins and other burglary incidents make residents feel unsafe.

The crackdown comes as the city grapples with high rates of car break-ins, with San Francisco seeing over 22,000 reported last year, according to SFPD data.

In an ironic twist of fate, a tourist’s rental car was allegedly bipped—slang for breaking into a car and stealing valuables—Thursday morning, near the site where officials were set to discuss the anti-car theft measures, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

But San Francisco police spokesperson Kathryn Winters refuted the Chronicle’s reporting. Winters said the break-in did not happen on Baker or Bay streets but confirmed that a victim filed a police report. Winters did not provide further information.

Officers at the press conference told The Standard the break-in did not happen nearby.

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins expressed support for SFPD’s new efforts.

“When police departments invest resources in these abatement efforts, they are effective and allow more cases to be brought to our office,” Jenkins said. “We need to create a system of deterrence and make people think twice about committing crimes in San Francisco because they will be caught and prosecuted.”

In November, two suspects tried to rob a wedding photographer of his gear in broad daylight near The Palace of Fine Arts.

Thieves will frequently go after rental cars or cars with out-of-state plates in hopes of nabbing any valuables inside.

READ MORE: San Francisco Neighborhood With Most Car Break-Ins Has Tourists Taking Steps To Dodge Crime

Police data shows that 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, were:

  • North Beach: 2,285
  • Japantown: 1,835
  • Presidio: 1,329
  • Russian Hill: 862
  • Financial District/South Beach: 790