Finally, Neighborhood-Policing for Car Break-Ins
By Joel P. Engardio
I serve on the board of Stop Crime SF and we applaud Police Chief Bill Scott’s recent announcement to assign officers in San Francisco neighborhoods dedicated to car break-ins and other property crimes.
Stop Crime SF supported the idea of a focused strategy to fight crime last fall when Supervisors Norman Yee and Hillary Ronen proposed it. Our members spoke at City Hall to express the frustration and fear we feel in the neighborhoods when property crime is at epidemic proportions. San Francisco had more than 30,000 reported car break-ins last year — a 24 percent increase from the year before.
A Note of Caution
Stop Crime SF believes the new neighborhood-policing strategy will only work if Chief Scott has a centralized plan to pool intelligence and coordinate operations across San Francisco.
The reality we must address is that today’s serial criminals operate as organized teams across all neighborhoods. A crack-down in one neighborhood will only move the criminals to another part of town and there aren’t enough resources to put an officer on every street corner.
For example, when the police department ended its citywide car burglary task force last fall to create more foot patrols, car break-ins continued to rise.
That’s why coordinated data is important to addressing a citywide epidemic in property crime. Chief Scott’s comments in the San Francisco Chronicle make us hopeful: “The new station-specific officers will work with investigators across the department as they spot spikes in property crimes in their neighborhoods and adjust resources and strategies as necessary,” Scott said. “Basically, what it will be is much better coordination and better focus.”
How the Initiative Will Work
Chief Scott’s initiative will start as a pilot program at the Taraval and Mission police stations. Taraval station serves much of the westside, including supervisor districts seven (represented by Norman Yee) and four (represented by Katy Tang). Mission station serves parts of the eastside, including supervisor district nine (represented by Hillary Ronen).
After six months, Chief Scott will report outcomes at the Taraval and Mission stations. Then dedicated police staffing for car break-ins at every station in the city will begin to be phased in by the end of 2018.
“We are taking strong, proactive steps to reduce vehicle burglaries by assigning District Station officers specifically to the prevention, reporting and investigation of these crimes,” Chief Scott said in a press statement. “By working closely with our community members and the deployment of data-driven strategies including undercover operations, foot patrols and education programs, we will make an impact on these types of crimes.”
Need for Better Data
Stop Crime SF supported Supervisors Yee and Ronen’s proposal last fall because it called for a focused crime-fighting strategy and better reporting of data. Stop Crime SF has been pushing for more accessible crime data so residents can be informed and hold criminal justice agencies accountable. Transparent and easily sharable data will also help police, prosecutors and other city departments communicate more effectively to combat crime.
“We have to ensure that the police have the tools they need to stop this crime, and we have to try new strategies until something sticks,” Supervisor Ronen said in a press statement. “I want to thank Supervisor Yee for continuing to push for district-based staffing, and I am hopeful that we will see some improvements once this plan is implemented.”
Rental Car Legislation
Stop Crime SF worked closely with Supervisor Yee to pass two pieces of legislation last year aimed to reduce car break-ins. The first requires rental car agencies to warn their customers to avoid leaving luggage and other valuables in their parked cars because of car burglaries. The second requires the elimination of advertising and prominently visible barcodes on rental cars so they won’t be obvious targets to burglars.
We focused on rental cars because they are magnets for thieves. Tourists often leave luggage and valuables in their cars. Burglars know out-of-town victims likely won’t return to San Francisco to testify in court if they get caught. And if criminals are drawn to a neighborhood street where tourists park, the cars and homes of local residents are also at risk.
Stop Crime SF felt addressing rental cars was a good start, considering that the Park Station police station commander said 97 percent of the crimes in his district were car break-ins — and 67 percent of those were to rental cars.
With Chief Scott now making car break-ins a priority in the neighborhoods, we look forward to seeing the results in July when the pilot phase is complete.
In the meantime, join Stop Crime SF to add your voice to our grassroots effort to hold the criminal justice system accountable.
Volunteer for our Court Watch program to help ensure San Francisco courts take burglaries and other crimes seriously.
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