San Francisco rocked by spate of robberies 

Aided by a recent crime surge this past week, San Francisco robberies in 2008 are outpacing last year’s statistics, and with the economy still stumbling, the thievery trend could continue in the future, officials warn.

Since July 17 there have been at least 20 cases of armed robberies throughout The City with victims in neighborhoods from Potrero Hill to the Marina to the Sunset.

Lt. William Canning of the Police Department’s robbery division said the vast influx of portable electronic gadgets, such as iPods, cell phones and laptops — items easily peddled illegally — are likely the main source for the rise in crime.

However, larger overall factors such as rising fuel prices and the current economic slowdown also play a significant role.

"You have people trying to save gas by taking Muni, and they’re using it as their office," Canning said. "They have their laptops out, listening to their iPods, so they’re not paying attention to what’s going on around them. A criminal can just follow them off their stop and rob them two blocks later."

Crime often rises and falls with the economy, said Capt. James Dudley of the Central Police Station. The district has reported a steady rise in crimes of theft and opportunity, including petty thefts, shoplifting and "dine and dash" types of crimes. Drug users who lose their jobs could turn to criminal means, Dudley said.

"If you lose your job you can cut costs by giving up cable or not going out to dinner as much," Dudley said. "But drug addiction, you can’t give that up, so you find whatever means possible to support your habit."

Passive crimes, such as panhandling, are turning more aggressive as the wait for the extra dollar becomes longer and more difficult, Dudley said.

"A person who buys that $4 latte is no longer giving that extra dollar to a panhandler," Dudley said. "As a result, we’re seeing people take more drasticmeasures to sustain themselves."

Capt. Gary Jimenez, of the Tenderloin Police Station, said the economic situation is putting the neighborhood’s drug peddlers in an unfamiliar position.

"We’re seeing that even our drug dealers are getting robbed," Jimenez said.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com 

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