SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — While brazen auto burglars can strike anywhere in the city, San Francisco police released a list of hot spots where “bipping” is most rampant.

Popular San Francisco landmarks were listed in the top three spots where thieves most frequently smash into parked cars, and dash away with whatever is inside.

  • Palace of Fine Arts
  • Alamo Square
  • Fisherman’s Wharf

The locations are notably all landmarks that attract tourists. “Our world-class sites draw visitors from around the world, but unfortunately, organized criminals also converge on these areas to victimize people,” the San Francisco Police Department wrote.

Entire city blocks lined with parked cars have been targeted by vandals.

Videos shot by witnesses around the city in 2023 show thieves smashing through car window glass in broad daylight, undeterred by onlookers.

Police Chief Bill Scott announced Thursday that SFPD launched a new and intensive strategy to combat auto burglaries. Scott pledged to hold perpetrators who “callously prey on the city’s residents and visitors” accountable.

Effective immediately, visible uniformed police patrols increased in areas of the city where these crimes are most pervasive. The officers’ presence will help deter would-be car thieves, as well as arrest auto burglars caught in the act, according to the police chief.

Chief Scott said, “I’m disturbed every time I see these crimes on social media or the local news. Auto break ins are devastating to residents and visitors who should be having a joyous experience in San Francisco rather than the nightmare of losing their valuable personal belongings.”

The increased number of uniformed patrols will supplement work of plainclothes undercover officers. The SFPD is also utilizing new tactics, including “bait cars,” to identify and arrest suspects.

Another element that fueled brazen auto burglaries was a lack of consequences in the past, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

DA Brooke Jenkins said, “We’ve gotten to a point in San Francisco where people didn’t even fear being arrested, because they didn’t think anything would happen once the DA’s Office took over the case. They didn’t think there would be any meaningful consequence.”

Jenkins continued, “They have to learn that, not only will there be an arrest, but once that case is filed, something meaningful will happen on the back end to serve as a deterrent for future behavior.” 

Investigators are also building cases against the larger criminal enterprises that often operate from outside the city and involve numerous fencing schemes to sell stolen property.

Chief Scott said, “Our message to these criminals is clear: If you come to San Francisco to break into cars or commit other crimes, we will arrest you.”

The number of auto break-ins has increased in San Francisco compared to pandemic numbers. As the tourism industry rebounds post-pandemic, auto break-ins are rising, according to SFPD data.

Mayor London Breed said, “People should not fear having their cars broken into, whether they are running down the street for errands or visiting our incredible city for the first time.”

Year-to-date SFPD statistics on vehicle break-ins:

  • 2023: 13,331
  • 2022: 13,493
  • 2021: 11,853
  • 2020: 9,856
  • 2019: 15,408
  • 2018: 16,911

SFPD is currently staffed with 600 officers less than the department’s recommended staffing
levels. The SFPD’s 279th Academy Class is set to graduate in September, and the 280th Academy Class — the largest since before the pandemic — is set to graduate in February.

“As we work to build back our police staffing, we must continue to prevent, detain, and
prosecute people,” Breed.