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Fears Arise As Burglaries In San Francisco Soar

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Residents in San Francisco say they don't feel safe amid an alarming rise in the number of burglaries across the city.

KPIX-5 took a closer look at the crime data over the last 10 years and talked to one of the country's most respected criminologists, who gave an analytical perspective of what's been happening in the city.

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On Nextdoor, Facebook and other online platforms, residents continue to post surveillance videos and pictures of prowling predators lurking, breaking and entering garages and homes across the city.

"I never felt safe from that point on," said San Francisco resident Iryna Gorb.

Gorb is just one resident among thousands who saw a sudden surge in burglaries, not only in her North Beach neighborhood, but also in many other districts.

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"There was definitely a lot of fear ongoing. We were looking for protection," Gorb told KPIX 5.

Burglaries across the city catapulted more than 62% from mid-March 2020 -- the onset of the pandemic -- until the end of last year.

"When you see an activity like that go up that much, you are either talking more active burglars, or more burglars," said UC Berkeley School of Law professor and criminologist Franklin Zimring.

Zimring has written extensively on crime in America for decades, and is the director of criminal justice studies at UC Berkeley School of Law.

"I don't think we're talking about more burglars," said Zimring. "If I had to gamble, I'd gamble it's round up the usual suspects."

Usual or not, life for Gorb and her neighbors suddenly became troubling as cameras captured seemingly non-stop break-ins every night during the late summer and early fall of 2020.

"Some people had been living there for decades and never felt that way. Now we're feeling scared," said Gorb.

Residents say the initial response from San Francisco police went nowhere. So after someone broke into her complex in the middle of the night, Gorb started sleuthing, obsessively collecting evidence on her own from neighbors' cameras.

"I felt like the more pressure we put on them the more they'd hear us," said Gorb.

She created a map detailing exactly when and where the break-ins were happening and connected the dots.

"I was pinpointing on my map, then started seeing similar faces in many of the videos," said Gorb.

Ten years of data from 2010-2020 submitted by SFPD to the FBI, shows a gradual increase in the rate of property crime in San Francisco with the sharpest rise in 2013 and not in 2020.

Not only that, the rate of violent crime in the city over the last 10 years, also shows a steady decline.

"There was no strong secular crime pattern during that period of time. We weren't dealing with a more general phenomenon," said Zimring.

Breaking it down further, during COVID, as burglaries shot up astronomically, larceny, which includes pickpocketing of tourists and shoplifting from stores, plummeted more than 49%.

Criminologists believe the pandemic led to a dramatic shift in the types of property crimes committed largely targeting tourists before the shut-down to zeroing in on vulnerable residents instead.

"I haven't seen much experience so far that we have a whole new set of players," said Zimring.

Whether the usual suspects ramped up their criminal activity or new players contributed to the San Francisco surge, the effects on residents like Iryna have been lasting.

"We're still just on high alert now, all the time," said Gorb. "I don't think I'll ever feel safe in San Francisco anymore."

Gorb says many of her neighbors installed more surveillance cameras and noticed increased patrols in the area. She says that may have made a difference.

But many residents told us they simply moved out of the city, because of all the break-ins they've been witnessing.

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