SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco is moving to stem a scourge of auto break-ins by joining with private businesses to offer cash rewards for information on the fencing operations moving the stolen goods.
Mayor London Breed joined Police Chief Bill Scott Tuesday morning at a press conference to announce the cash reward system funded by private donors in the hospitality and tourism industry. The reward of up to $100,000 is for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved with organized auto burglary fencing operations.
Raw Video: San Francisco Announces Cash Rewards To Stop Auto Burglary-Fueled Fencing Operations
"The frequent auto burglaries in San Francisco are not victimless crimes, they have real financial and emotional consequences for the victims and we're continuing to work to hold people who commit these crimes accountable," said Breed in a prepared statement. "These break-ins hurt our residents, especially working families who do not have the time or money to deal with the effects, as well as visitors to our City whose experiences are too often tarnished after an otherwise positive experience."
Among the most recent victim's of auto burglary in the city was Australian singer Clinton Kane, who was held up at gunpoint during a break-in to his vehicle Friday in the city's Cow Hollow neighborhood.
Police say organized criminal fencing operations fuel the frequent smash-and-grab auto break-ins in San Francisco.
"Organized crime has been driving a lot of the theft in this city. The people at the top have been raking in huge sums of money by paying street-level criminals to do all their stealing for them, making working families miserable in the process. This initiative is going to help us take these rings apart," said Sharky Laguana, President, Small Business Commission in a press statement.
Shortly after that announcement, another car break-in occurred, just a half block away from where officials stood.
"We came back, our window was broken and all of our stuff was gone," said Caityln Janes.
A ransacked car is what they came back to, leaving them helpless before heading to the airport.
"All our important stuff, our passports our ids, our covid cards all stolen," said Janes.
Caitlyn Janes and her dad just wanted to buy some chocolate before saying goodbye to San Francisco.
They're just one of the latest auto-burglary victims.
"It is really embarrassing for our city and frustrating and it gives people the impression it's not safe to come here," said Breed during the announcement.
Police said it's estimated that fewer than a dozen regular auto burglary crews are responsible for the large majority of auto burglaries that have plagued San Francisco and other Bay Area cities in recent years.
According to police department data, the highpoint for auto burglaries this year came two weeks after California began to emerge from COVID lockdowns, with 566 auto burglaries reported citywide for the week ending July 4, 2021. The mayor's office said since then, additional police and community-based patrols have led to a sustained drop in auto break-ins.
"We're just thinking of new ways to deal with this situation and try to get some accountability for the people who are committing these crimes," said Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District Randal Scott.
City leaders say there's been a 37% drop in car burglaries from July 4th through mid-October because of increased patrols in targeted areas.
"We've had some success breaking up some of these operations but there are a lot more people out there," said Chief Scott.
But SFPD data also shows a consistent increase in burglaries over the years in the Northern District, that includes popular spots like Fisherman's Wharf since 2017. Those figures have skyrocketed in 2020 and this year, rising to nearly double the number in 2017.
"It makes me want to find these people and do justice myself," said security guard Rich Bruger.
Bruger has been patrolling Ghirardelli Square for eight years and says things have not gotten better in 2021.
"It's almost everyday and in broad daylight. Look what time it is 12:30? They don't care. They have no fear of breaking into cars and getting away with it," said Bruger.
More than $200,000 has been raised by businesses for this new initiative with a goal to collect $1 million.
Organizers say the more they have in the war-chest, the better the chances of getting informants to hand over relevant information.
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