Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vehicle Break-In's

There has been an increase in the number of vehicle break-in's in the Sunset District of SF, and possibly city-wide. I receive the Taraval Police Station Crime Report email and they have reported this increase, as well as have warned residents not to leave anything valuable in their vehicles when parking on the streets.

Over the past month or so, two vehicles have been burglarized in front of my home (both parked in the same spot ironically). It is certainly un-nerving to have this happen in front of your home. Alarmed by the situation, I decided to write Supervisor Carmen Chu to make sure she was aware of this situation and to ask if the city is doing anything to try to prevent these vehicle break-in's from becoming an epidemic. Here is my letter to her, which pretty much explains my concern.
Dear Supervisor Chu:
I am writing to you about a growing problem in the Sunset; theft from locked vehicles. I receive the Taraval Police Station Crime Report emails and have read about the growing problem, and the police department's warning about not leaving valuables in vehicles. Recently though, I have experienced this problem first hand as several parked vehicles in front of my home have been burglarized.

I understand that there is little that can be done to prevent such crime short of encouraging the public to report crimes in progress or suspicious activity, ensuring that the streets are lit, and educating the public not to leave valuables in their vehicles. Although vigilant, I have not witnessed any vehicle break-ins but am often left sweeping the broken glass off the sidewalk. The problem I have is that SFPD does not respond to vehicle break-ins.

When a vehicle is burglarized, the owner of the vehicle will sometimes not realize for several days that they have been robbed. In my opinion, this puts the property owner where that vehicle is parked and the area at large in risk of additional crimes (Broken Window Theory). If SFPD would respond, it is possible that the owner lives nearby and can be notified so their vehicle can be moved or repaired. I am sure the reason SFPD does not respond is due to a lack of resources, however given that this issue is becoming an epidemic perhaps some better police involvement would help reduce the number of vehicle burglaries?

Please let me know what action, if any, the city is taking to help reduce these crimes. They threaten to endanger the safety and security of our neighborhood if left unchecked. In the meantime we have ransacked vehicles with broken windows in front of our homes; sometimes for days.

Thank you,
Craig Given
I was surprised to receive a call from Ms.Chu to explain what she is trying to do about it. First off, it is not very often that you receive a call from a politician you write to about a particular problem. Granted, she is much closer to her constituents than say a Senator or The President - but she deals with quality of life issues that impact everyone's "day to day" in the Sunset. It was nice that she would set aside the time to call me about this, and I was happy to hear her tell me her plans.

She agreed that the problem was growing, and agreed with me that SFPD should take more action. She planned on talking to the new SFPD Taraval Station Captain (Captain Denise Schmidt) as well. I certainly don't expect SFPD to solve a vehicle break-in, that would be very difficult - but to show some involvement after the fact might send a message to the perpetrator that the police ARE involved. (Currently, SFPD does NOT respond to calls for vehicle break-in's unless the crime is in progress or you know who/where the suspect is. If you are victimized, you can only file a report online).

Perhaps a small amount of investigative work could go a long way in finding similarities among the crimes, and linking them to arrests in other areas? At the minimum, it would be nice to have SFPD respond so the owners of the victimized vehicles can be contacted and the vehicles can be removed from our streets sooner; and hopefully prevent residual crimes from occurring (Broken Window Theory).

I am a believer in the "Broken Window Theory", and do my part to preserve the neighborhood by doing regular upkeep of my building, keeping the sidewalk in front of my house clear, and generally helping keep the entire block clean. The theory states:
Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.
-The Atlantic Monthly; March 1982. "Broken Windows" by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling
So if we continue leaving ransacked and burglarized cars in our neighborhood unchecked, what message does that send and what other crime will that attract?

Aside from Supervisor Chu's verbal assurance of understanding the issue and her desire to ask SFPD for more involvement, she responded to me:
Thank you for your email Craig,

I'm glad we had a chance to touch base today. While I do believe that having additional investigative support at the Taraval Police District will help to address property crime issues over the long run, I will also speak to Captain Schmidt about her more immediate plans to address the issue of property crime in the District.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Carmen Chu
SF Board of Supervisors
District 4
Thank you Supervisor Chu for your time and attention, and I hope SFPD becomes more involved. In the meantime I keep a close eye on my block, take precautions so I don't become a victim, quickly clean up any break in's I come across in my immediate area, and put up a small sign in front of my property to warn people (pictured at top). I hope that Chinese translates well (thank you Google Translate). What more can I do?

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