Car thefts increase in SF, but many are recovered 

click to enlarge The Excelsior is one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in The City when it comes to vehicle thefts, according to the police. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • The Excelsior is one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in The City when it comes to vehicle thefts, according to the police.

The Fifth and Mission Garage is one of San Francisco's largest vehicle depositories -- but it is not even large enough to fit all the cars that have been stolen in The City this year.

At eight floors and 2,585 parking spots, the garage would need roughly five more stories to hold all the automobiles -- 4,344 -- swiped citywide from Jan. 1 to the end of August.

That number is 18 percent higher for the first eight months of the year than the previous year's count, and police are indicating that the increase might in many cases be linked to organized criminal efforts.

"They are organized," Capt. Greg McEachern said at a recent Police Department meeting. McEachern heads the Northern Police Station, which stretches from the Marina to Market Street.

McEachern did not name the groups involved. But at the same meeting of department heads, he did say recent car-theft-related arrests in his police district involved members of a Bayview crew known as Zoo Block. In total, 397 such arrests were made so far this year.

As for the rest of The City, all but one of the 10 police districts recorded an increase in car thefts. The worst neighborhoods are the Outer Mission and Excelsior followed by the Northern Police District.

The latter, McEachern's district, saw a 16 percent increase year over year as of the end of August: 482 versus 416.

Every district experienced a rise in car thefts during that period except for the police district covering the Richmond, where such incidents declined by 13 percent.

The Ingleside Police District had the most car thefts during that time period, with 833 reported. That compares to 751 during the same period last year.

Ingleside is one of The City's largest police districts, stretching from the lower Mission and Bernal Heights to Glen Park, the Outer Mission and the Excelsior.

For McEachern's district, two plainclothes teams have been tasked with working seven days a week watching out for car thieves in hot spots like parking garages.

They have also been successful by putting tracking devices on vehicles and using license plate trackers, McEachern said at the police meeting.

"It's pretty bad," Morgan St. Clair said of car theft in The City.

As a member of Safety Awareness for Everyone, the nonprofit that coordinates neighborhood watches, she keeps in touch with community groups on such issues.

On Monday night, St. Clair attended a community meeting in Twin Peaks and car theft was one of the main concerns for the area.

"It's definitely a huge issue," she said.

Sgt. A.J. Holder works out of the Tenderloin Police Station, which despite the neighborhood's reputation for crime is actually one of the police districts with the fewest car thefts in The City. He said most car thefts in San Francisco are for temporary criminal use and not resale.

That is why so many are recovered, he said.

AutoReturn, the tow company that takes in recovered cars in The City, said about 195 cars are recovered each month. From January to June, about 1,250 cars were recovered.

Holder said a common car-theft scenario involves stealing a vehicle, committing a robbery or two, then dumping the automobile somewhere, often in the Tenderloin.

Car thefts are more prevalent in San Francisco because of the ever-present parking issues here, Holder also said.

People often park their cars far away from their home or the restaurant where they are dining or store they are patronizing. The distance and lack of eyes on the vehicle give thieves much more time to get away with the crime.

Car thefts in San Francisco

Incidents have gone up markedly from 2013 to 2014

3,691

First eight months of 2013

4,344

First eight months of 2014

18%

Year-over-year increase

2,200

Rough number of recovered stolen cars each year

1,200

Approximate number of cars recovered in first half of 2013

1,250

Approximate number recovered in first half of 2014

Sources: Police Department, AutoReturn

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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