Thieves who break into cars in San Francisco’s most touristy areas—and everywhere else—are unlikely to be arrested, let alone prosecuted, according to data released as part of a hearing on the topic Thursday.
Between Jan. 1 and July 31 of this year, according to the DA's Office, there have been 127 felony auto burglary cases presented and 86 cases filed. The DA's Office said that of the 86 cases filed so far this year, there have been 45 convictions.
Over that period of time, there were roughly 11,000 break-ins.
In all of 2021, there were 274 cases presented and 164 filed; in all of 2022, there were 266 cases presented and 212 cases filed, according to data from the DA presented ahead of a hearing on strategies to address the city's car break-in problem.
Most of the break-ins across the city this year occurred in popular tourist destinations such as Fisherman’s Wharf, which has the highest number of such crimes so far this year, followed by Chinatown and then Alamo Square, according to police.
As of Sept. 17, the city had 15,053 car break-ins this year, according to police.
Despite low clearance rates for car break-ins, Supervisor Catherine Stefani defended the department at the hearing, which was sponsored by Supervisor Dean Preston.
While the data appears to show that SFPD is “falling down on the job. I think that’s an unfair assumption to make,” she said, adding that the crimes happen in the blink of an eye and are especially hard to solve.
Preston questioned why so few people have been arrested for the crime given the stepped-up efforts to reduce the number of car break-ins and asked why there appeared to be no concerted all-hands-on-deck effort between city agencies.
“I am disappointed in a current lack of a coordinated response,” Preston said.
While department Cmdr. Derrick Jackson, who presented police data to the committee, could not speak to the clearance rate, he did speak to strategies the department has been deploying, from bait cars to undercover units targeting such crimes.
The hearing held by the Government Audit and Oversight Committee included testimony from police and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on prevention efforts, as well as frustrated residents.
“I just feel unsafe,” said city employee Cheryl Thornton, whose car was recently broken into.
Preston had asked District Attorney Brooke Jenkins to report on any victim services offered to people who have had their cars broken into, but in a letter to the committee, she said that her office's Victims Services Division primarily assists people who have been the victims of violent crimes, and "due to budgetary constraints, our office does not currently have staffing capacity to support victims of car break-ins.”
In the same letter, Jenkins said that property crime is plaguing the city and deeply impacting residents and businesses. San Francisco police have promised more patrols to address the auto-burglary problem, especially in tourist areas. In the agenda packet released before Thursday's meeting, a manager of a high-end shoe store asked San Francisco government heads to take action about the problem.
“I must admit that it is increasingly difficult to find anything positive in a city that is suffering from a seemingly unending epidemic of car break-ins and increased crime," wrote Denny Garbuio of John Fluevog Shoes on Haight Street.
“The situation is dire, and it is utterly perplexing that we find ourselves here despite the extensive surveillance infrastructure throughout the city.”
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at email@example.com