The coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of people out of work, but there’s one occupation that’s busier than ever — burglary. And more brazen too.
Mission District residents are contending with a 78% increase in burglaries over last year.
Look at the numbers.
As of Friday, there were 4,983 reported burglaries in San Francisco this year — about 21 a day. That represents a 42% increase over the same period in 2019.
The highest number of break-ins has been in the San Francisco Police Department’s Northern District, with 1,018 burglaries since Jan 1.
Northern District covers the Civic Center, Western Addition, Hayes Valley, Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow and the Marina — it has seen a 43% rise in burglaries.
Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the Marina and Cow Hollow, said the station captain told her that it’s up more like 90% in the area around Van Ness Avenue and Union Street.
“The problem is real, and it is completely unacceptable,” Stefani said.
Four of the city’s other police districts — Ingleside, Park, Richmond and Southern — all reported increases exceeding 40% as well. The Mission police district reported a whopping 78% increase over the same period last year.
The lowest increases were in the Tenderloin (18%), the Bayview (3%) and Taraval (2.5%) districts.
Even more worrisome is the increase in “hot prowl burglaries” — they used to be known as “cat burglaries.” That’s when the burglar enters a home or business when the occupant is there as well.
There were 530 hot-prowl burglaries from January to August — a 64% increase over the 323 hot-prowl burglaries reported over the same period in 2019.
Postings about home burglaries, especially garage break-ins, have become a regular fixture on neighborhood social media sites such as Nextdoor.
Here are some samples of postings in the Richmond and Sunset areas:
• “Last night someone broke into our garage and stole 5 of our bikes! There were two Trek hybrid bikes, one with a PVC attachment on it, one brand new gray Trek mountain bike, one relatively old orange mountain bike with front and rear suspension, and a green mountain bike that had a tool kit under the seat.”
• ”Sorry you are going through this. We had 6 locked bikes in our locked garage taken Thursday night. … Have plenty of pics of the burglars. … They look pretty professional. Came back with huge bolt cutters to cut through the bike locks.”
• “Our garage window was melted with a blow torch on Friday night/Sat morning. This is the second attempted break-in, and we replaced the glass with a plastic window after the first, but they were prepared with a blow torch … incredible.”
Alan Byard, who runs a city-sanctioned private police unit that works closely with the SFPD and covers the Marina, Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights, said businesses and boarded-up storefronts are also prime targets.
“Clothing stores, retail stores, CVS, Walgreens. They smash the glass, grab a few things and are gone before anyone can show up,” Byard said.
But he said the biggest change has been in residential burglaries.
“People are breaking in at 1, 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, usually through the garage,” Byard said. “Then they go through the garage door into the house or through the small door on the side of the house.”
Burglars have also taken to breaking into cars along residential streets to get automatic garage-door openers. Then they walk up and down the street clicking the device until a garage door opens.
At the same time that burglaries are exploding, reports of car break-ins and shoplifting are down by one-third.
“People are bragging about car break-ins going down; well that’s because there are fewer tourist cars to break into,” Stefani said. “So the thieves are breaking into houses. Both are crimes of opportunity, and they see houses as the opportunity now.”
Like a car break-in, home burglary is a felony. Police need to catch the thief in the act or have proof like video footage, however, to make the charge stick.
Police don’t seem to be having too much luck — the clearance rate for solving burglaries has dropped 25% compared with last year.
Police spokeswoman Tiffany Hang said the department “is working tirelessly to investigate all burglaries reported to SFPD. Patrol officers are on foot, bicycle and patrol vehicles to educate the community in tools to protect themselves and their business from burglaries as well as provide law enforcement service and visible deterrence of such crimes.”
Meanwhile, residents are worried.
“It’s not just burglaries,” Stefani said. “I had a friend who has two small children call me the other night at 9:45. There was a man with two big dogs having what appeared to be a psychotic episode on her front doorstep. She called 911 and waited for two hours, but the police never came. I’m sure it’s not because the police didn’t want to come, they just don’t have the resources.”
Sunset District resident Rob Schaezlein, who has been keeping track of break-ins in his usually quiet neighborhood, agrees.
“Someone is going to get hurt eventually. Scary times,” Schaezlein said.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Matier appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Matier can be seen on the KGO-TV morning and evening news and can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Got a tip? Call 415-777-8815, or email [email protected] Twitter: @philmatier