Two different groups of tourists had their belongings stolen — including their passports — from their car during a broad-daylight smash-and-grab while they briefly visited a beach in crime-riddled San Francisco.
A family of tourists from Malta were seen calling police as they stood in the Ocean Beach parking lot after their rental car was vandalized, leaving shattered glass strewn across the ground, Instagram video taken last week by Matty Lopez and shared by reporter Arisley T. Pacheco showed.
When Lopez approached the family, who seemed distraught by the incident, he asked an unnamed woman: “What happened? You went to the beach for five minutes.”
The woman then replied that they were gone for 10 minutes at most when the bold thieves “took everything we had — passports, cameras, phones, iPads, laptops, luggage — everything.”
She noted that it was only the family’s second day in the city, and they were already contemplating returning home due to the devastating theft.
Just five minutes after speaking with her, Lopez found a separate of tourists who had their car’s back windshield broken, he said in a separate video.
“So I don’t think this is an isolated incident,” he said, before asking one of the European tourists what happened.
A man replied that while they were away, thieves took their luggage and a backpack.
The videos were posted to Instagram last Thursday, but it is unclear whether that is when the break-ins occurred.
The Post has reached out to the San Francisco Police Department for more information.
Many attributed the incidents to the rising crime rates in the Bay City, with one Instagram user asking: “Why don’t people learn not to visit California?”
Another said it is “sad you can’t turn your back for one [second],” lamenting that San Francisco “used to be a tourist Mecca, now it’s becoming the forgotten city.”
And a third simply said, “You can’t leave anything in your car anymore.”
In August, the San Francisco Police Department reported nearly 1,670 car break-ins, contributing to nearly 10,000 thefts from vehicles.
The criminals often engage in “bipping and boosting,” a process in which they smash car windows, grab what they can and quickly drive away, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which said thieves could often target multiple parked vehicles in a single day.
It noted tourists are often attractive victims because they travel with luggage or buy expensive goods that they store in their rental cars.
But even as the number of car break-ins soared over the years — with 2,500 car break-ins reported for every 100,000 residents in 2020 — the number of arrests declined.
One report in 2016 blamed the surge in car break-ins that began in 2011 to the police force decentralizing its investigative units as it moved toward “community policing.”
The Civil Grand Jury that commissioned the report believed the model — in which officers get assigned on patrol to a specific neighborhood — made the department “ineffective” at curbing organized rings committing car break-ins across the city.
It was estimated that these groups were responsible for 70 to 80 percent of all incidents.
Law enforcement officials also told the Chronicle they believe the low arrest rates contribute to the influx of car break-ins, as Police Chief Bill Scott focuses the force’s efforts on more violent crimes.
He announced on Aug. 24 that the police department would boost visible patrol staff and place bait cars around break-in hotspots to deter car break-ins.
But Steve Tull, a former Oakland police captain who went on to become the chief investigator for the District Attorney, told the Chronicle: “As soon as we’d take one group off, another group comes on.”
He suggested the best way to combat the auto break-ins is by having law enforcement agencies organize a regional task force.
City officials and rental car companies could also convince residents and tourists to stop leaving items in their cars, as they did in 2017 and 2018.
In 2017, San Francisco launched its Park Smart campaign, in which city workers posted theft awareness signs and distributed pamphlets at break-in hotspots.
The following year, car break-ins fell nearly 20%, the outlet reported.
By 2018, the San Francisco Police Department also partnered with the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency to reduce auto burglaries at the Sutter-Stockton Garage.
It installed fencing, lighting and surveillance cameras while posting signs warning people about thefts. As a result, break-ins dropped by 38% within just a few months, according to the Chronicle.
But in a July 2023 press release, Supervisor Dean Preston said the program’s status was “unclear.”
And when asked about the campaign by a Chronicle reporter on Aug. 24, Police Chief Scott acknowledged the city should be “more aggressive” in raising awareness about car break-ins as it did under the Park Smart campaign.
“We need to step that back up again,” he told reporters.
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