Car Burglaries Hit Epidemic Levels Across Bay Area

Law enforcement sources say recent changes to laws have made it easier for career criminals to get out of jail and stay out.

Car burglaries have hit epidemic levels across the Bay Area, in some cases doubling over the last six months, analysis of Bay Area police data shows.

A convicted criminal recently arrested and jailed for breaking into cars talked to NBC Bay Area, to give insight into what he does and how he does it. “I just walk around with a flashlight,” said the criminal, who asked not to be identified for fear of backlash from other inmates. “Keep walking until I find the right car, break the window and then I go from there.”

The convict, who before his latest arrest, worked as a barista by day. He claimed that as a car burglar, on some nights he can make $1500 from stolen goods in “less than 20 seconds.”

The crime may be quick, but for the victims, the price is high. “You feel very violated,” said Chris Moreno, whose car was broken into last Christmas Eve. “There was glass everywhere.”

In the Potrero Hill neighborhood, residents say it’s as bad as it’s ever been. “I know people that are getting their cars broken into twice a month," said Joey D’Angelo, another car burglary victim. "They’ve given up filing police reports because it’s a hassle.”

San Francisco Car Burglary Statistics

The city of San Francisco has had 18,026 reported auto burglaries in the first nine months of this year. That’s a 36% increase from the same time period in 2014. “Earlier this year, they were up as much as 70%,” said San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr. “It’s certainly the number one property crime issue here in the city,”

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit analyzed data from the San Francisco Police Department, which looked at when the break-ins are happening. The data shows it doesn’t matter what day of the week you park your car on the street. Criminals are hitting virtually the same number of cars on each day of the week.

Big Increase in Burglaries Across the Bay Area

It’s not just San Francisco seeing a huge spike.

“Over the last six months, literally auto burglaries have doubled,” said Mike Sena, Director of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. His team is responsible for analyzing data on car break-ins. “This is not a rarity, this is happening throughout the Bay Area.”

The San Jose Police Department has also seen more criminals breaking into cars. From January to September of this year, there have been 5251 reported vehicle burglaries. That’s 658 more reported vehicle burglaries than the same time in 2014, a 14.3% increase.

Change in Laws

Chief Suhr and other law enforcement sources point to recent changes in the law as one contributing factor for the increase in car burglary crimes.

In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB109 into law, which transfers responsibility for certain low-level criminal inmates from the state prison system into the county jail system. “A lot of low level criminal drug offenders and/or property criminals were all let out pretty much at the same time,” said Chief Suhr.

In 2014, voters passed Prop 47, which made property crimes of $950 or less a misdemeanor. Previously, anyone stealing more than $450 faced felony charges. “When you took away the consequence for certain crimes and the flexibility of the district attorney’s office to file things a felony charge and file it only as a misdemeanor, it seemed to change the way that we’re seeing things now,” said Mike Sena.

Sources also tell the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit that one way car burglars game the system is by working in tandem. That means one person break the window and second person steals what’s inside. That way, if they get caught, both only face a misdemeanor charge.

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