One of San Francisco’s last working class neighborhoods is becoming a primary dumping ground for stolen vehicles in the city, while the number of actual car thefts has decreased significantly across San Francisco, according to a recent police report.
From June through September 2014, the Excelsior District averaged 100 found stolen vehicles per month accounting for 45 percent of the total reported to Ingleside Police Station, the city’s largest police district.
The area includes the Excelsior, Bernal Heights, Sunnyside, Diamond Heights, Glen Park, Noe Valley, Mount Davidson, Sunnydale, Ingleside, Outer Mission, Crocker-Amazon and Visitacion Valley.
A large majority of the recovered cars were stolen in other police districts throughout the city and recovered in the Excelsior District.
San Francisco Police Officer Thompson Deck, who works for the plainclothes unit at the police station, said the Excelsior District is a target-dumping site “because of the population density of the area and neighbors typically do not know each other to provide checks and balances.”
Some residents of the Excelsior District say they are frustrated with the excessive number of abandoned vehicles parked in their neighborhood. Penny Mitchell, block captain for San Francisco Safe Excelsior Neighborhood Watch, discussed those concerns at their last meeting on Sept. 16.
“Neighbors are saying they do not know what to do and what kinds of recourses are available,” Mitchell said. “Once the city changed the street cleaning from every week to every two weeks there was less turn over of abandoned vehicles.”
Paradoxically, while the number of recovered stolen cars—particularly in the Excelsior—is up, the number of reported car thefts across the Ingleside police district is down.
Capt. Joseph McFadden attributes the 22 percent decrease in stolen vehicles and 16 percent increase of recovered vehicles in comparison to last year June through September 2013 to the added number of uniformed officers on the streets, improved crime analysis, new technologies, improved communication with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and greater awareness of vehicle theft prevention by the general public.
“Vehicle theft trends are unpredictable,” McFadden said. “Stats go month to month. There is a slight decline and then an up.” The rocky trend seems to heighten during peak seasons of winter and summer when school is out of session and during the holidays.
Officer Havin Muro from the Ingleside Station says emerging technologies on police vehicles are largely responsible for the recovery rate increasing.
Muro noted Automatic Number Plate Recognition vehicles have six-surveillance cameras attached to the siren lights on top of the car. The cameras search and photograph printed text that is the size of license plate numbers.
When a license plate is detected, a photograph is taken and then immediately recorded in the city’s stolen vehicle data system. Officers verify the tracked license plate numbers with stolen vehicle reports. The station currently owns two AMPR vehicles.
Increased police staffing may also be a cause for the downturn in car thefts and the increase in their recovery.
In May 2012, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White announced a multi-year comprehension staff plan. The plan offers six police academy classes with 50 students per class for the next six years authorizing about 2,000 full duty employees by June 2018.
The Ingleside Station hopes to reach a staff of 100 by next year, said McFadden. Additional officers expand the Ingleside Station’s undercover teams, dedicated to examining neighborhood crime trends and tracking certain criminals on record. Officers look for specific criminals who have an MO—modus operandi—an expected method of breaking in and stealing cars, McFadden said, and many, if not most are drug addicts.
“We have the same people committing the same crimes,” McFadden said. “It’s like we are feeding an addiction.”
Officer Robert Pedersen from the investigation office of the Ingleside Station analyzes stolen and recovered car trends. Within the past year and a half he can identify at least 10 names of arrested individuals who were repetitively reported for vehicle theft accounting for 50 percent of those arrested.
Officer Pedersen says it’s rare to catch a vehicle thief in the act because when it is dark the opportunities are easily accessible. Tuesday nights from 5:00 p.m. to midnight were the central times for stolen cars in September according to police reports.
Claudia Leon, an Ingleside resident, found her 98 Honda Civic stolen between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to sunrise. “The police told me San Francisco has a 95 percent recovery rate,” Leon said. “I thought my neighborhood was safe so I parked in front of my house.”
Leon said she remembered seeing an unfamiliar car diving around her block a few weeks before her car was stolen but did not report her suspicion.
Captain McFadden says he believes if his officers focus on identifying and arresting individuals that continually commit the same crimes and encourage residents to act as second pairs of eyes for officers, property crimes will gradually decrease as technology and strategies for recovering stolen vehicles advances.
“Five percent of the criminals are committing 80 percent of the crimes,” McFadden said. “I want residents to call 911 or send in a video if there is crime so we can get officers out there.”
For Regis Villacorta, a resident of the Excelsior District, street cleaning times complicated his stolen vehicle report. Villacorta noticed his car’s disappearance from where he parked last in the Excelsior District. He says he immediately called the Ingleside Station and an officer told him the car was towed because thieves left his car parked in a driveway during street sweeping hours.
Villacorta paid a total of $650 for two tickets and the tow fee. After his car was towed, police reported his case. “I wish the police reported my case earlier,” Villacorta said. “I felt I was bothering them, they said they could not do anything for me because my car was towed, but I should not have to pay for these tickets, they are not mine.”
Police had Villacorta submit a form explaining his case for the possibility of a towing fee reimbursement.