By Libby Dodd
The San Francisco Civil Grand Jury released a "continuity report" last month along with its 2018/2019 reports. As the name implies, it is a special type of report looking back at past reports to see if and how the city and county have lived up to its commitments for change. Maybe it’s time, I thought, for a second look at a 2015/2016 grand jury report on a crime that continues to plague the City — auto burglary.
We as citizens of San Francisco have been appalled at the recent headlines:
“Man run over by thief’s car while filming their getaway at the Legion of Honor”
“Auto break-ins on the rise at the Golden Gate parking lot”
“Alarming surge in auto burglaries in South Bay cities”
The problem is so bad the San Francisco Chronicle has even started a page making it easy to see weekly numbers of new incidents.
A key thrust of the 2016 grand jury report on auto burglary was the critical need for the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to create a centralized serial crimes unit — one modeled on the specialized tactics pioneered by the Patrol Bureau Task Force inaugurated in 2016 to do the highly specialized work of surveilling suspects known in law enforcement as “high flyers.” The task force was disbanded later that year. A fully resourced, serial crimes unit would have a singular focus on organized groups who engage in repeat, cross-jurisdiction crimes.
I set out to research whether the SFPD has lived up to its official response when the report was published in 2016, namely, that it had already implemented such a unit.
I was baffled by the information on the SFPD website “Investigations” page. Instead of a serial crimes unit, the page indicates auto burglary is lumped under “General Crimes" together with narcotics and traffic accidents. Through further research, I learned through an SFPD insider that General Crimes does include a Burglary/Auto group, but its 14 or so investigators are swamped handling the roughly 6,000 annual home and business burglaries reported, with residential burglaries getting priority.
It’s nearly impossible, I was told, to put in the time to investigate the north of 20,000 auto burglaries per year in San Francisco. Besides, the traditional techniques for investigating home burglaries just don’t work with highly mobile auto burglary offenders. Because of a lack of resources, the SFPD is powerless to combat auto burglary, as well as auto theft and auto stripping. All these crimes go virtually untouched.
Back to the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, my continuity research left me demoralized. Three years ago my colleagues and I had spent a huge amount of personal time bringing to light the needed changes at SFPD to combat auto burglary. Yet, little has changed. It must also be a downer for police officers. No major police department should have to simply give up when challenged by a relatively small group of serial offenders.
Dodd served on the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, which reported on auto burglary in 2016.