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‘We will arrest you': Calif. police department to use ‘bait cars’ to crack down on break-ins

Smash-and-grab thefts are reaching pre-pandemic highs as tourists return to San Francisco

san francisco police AP PhotoEric Risberg, File.jpg

Last year, there were more than 22,000 reports of thefts from vehicles, and in 2017, there were just over 31,000.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

By Ariana Bindman

SAN FRANSISCO, Calif. — The San Francisco Police Department is launching a new series of operations to deter car break-ins and subsequently hold those who “callously prey on the city’s residents and visitors” accountable, officials wrote in an Aug. 24 news release.

According to the release, the hardest-hit areas include popular tourist destinations like the Palace of Fine Arts, Alamo Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. In response, the department announced that it will bolster the number of uniformed officers in these areas, as well as deploy “bait cars” to help investigators identify and arrest thieves. Representatives declined to comment further, explaining that they do not provide information about specific operations.

By now, it’s no secret that San Francisco has been grappling with rampant car break-ins for years. Videos of vehicles getting “bipped” — or broken into — are often showcased on viral social media accounts like Oakland Area State of Mind, which has garnered a robust following of more than 180,000. Data from SFPD suggests that break-ins show no signs of abating, either: Last year, there were more than 22,000 reports of thefts from vehicles, and in 2017, there were just over 31,000. Though reports dipped during the pandemic, officials suspect that break-ins are increasing now that tourists are returning to the city, they said in the release.

“Our message to these criminals is clear: If you come to San Francisco to break into cars or commit other crimes, we will arrest you,” San Francisco police Chief Bill Scott said in the release. “I’m disturbed every time I see these crimes on social media or the local news. Auto break ins are devastating to residents and visitors who should be having a joyous experience in San Francisco rather than the nightmare of losing their valuable personal belongings.”


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