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New California car break-in law would close ‘loophole’—the unlocked door defense

A sign warns visitors of car break-ins at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

State Sen. Scott Wiener and San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Thursday announced a proposed law to make it easier to prosecute car break-in thieves by closing a legal loophole.

The legislation, which Wiener plans to introduce when the Legislature reconvenes in January, would remove the requirement that prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a car door was locked to convict for auto burglary. This means evidence of forcible entry would be sufficient to prove the crime of auto burglary, Wiener said in a press release Thursday.

State Senator Scott Wiener and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, not pictured, give a press event to announce new state legislation addressing car break-ins while outside of the Palace of Fine Arts on Thursday. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

The proposal comes as San Francisco grapples with a yearslong issue of rampant car break-ins. The city’s car break-in rate has exploded since 2010, outstripping other large California cities.

READ MORE: San Francisco Neighborhood With the Most Car Break-Ins

“San Francisco’s high rate of car break-ins is unacceptable, and we need to ensure our police and district attorney have all the tools they need to address it and hold people accountable for committing this crime,” said Wiener, who hopes to have his bill signed into law next year. “By closing this loophole, we can make San Francisco and cities across California safer.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the proposed law a "commonsense solution."

"We need laws that don't make it easy to get away with these types of crimes," Breed said.

A woman in a red shirt and plaid blazer speaks into a microphone.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the proposed law a "common sense solution." | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

The requirement to prove a car was locked typically requires victims to testify in court, and often victims can't go to court, especially when they are tourists or have work, Wiener said.

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said at a Thursday press conference the measure will make it easier to prosecute suspected car thieves and that thieves often work in groups.

"It's become more brazen, more organized," Jenkins said. "They are no longer looking for whether a door is locked; they are using tools to break windows in seconds."

Broken glass was scattered across the ground from a car break-in in Oakland on Feb. 1. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Jenkins said there have been 15,000 reported auto burglaries in 2023 alone.

San Francisco police are cracking down on car break-ins using a bait car program meant to catch thieves red-handed.

At the press conference, Police Chief Bill Scott said the number of reported break-in cases this year, 15,000, is likely an undercount and Wiener's measure will be an important part of fighting the problem.

READ MORE: San Francisco Car Break-Ins: 11K Crimes, but Just 45 Convictions in 2023

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, center, said a bill that state Sen. Scott Wiener plans to introduce in January will help the city address car break-ins. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

"We need every available tool to make this problem better," Scott said. "We believe this bill will do that."

Vehicle break-in issues affect some car makes and models more than others.

A social media challenge has led to higher rates of Kia and Hyundai cars being broken into and stolen. Audis with valet keys in the glove box have also been targeted for theft.