In 2017, 31,000 auto-burglaries were reported to the police. Arrests were made in less than 2% of the cases. We need a radical change. As District Attorney, Chesa Boudin will implement a two-pronged approach to preventing this crime -- and finally bring some help to the victims who have been left out by the criminal justice system.
The Status Quo
There is an epidemic of property crime, especially auto-burglaries, in San Francisco. Victims feel violated, angry, and scared. The person who broke into their cars, damaged them, and stole their belongings is rarely caught. Not being able to safely park our cars on city streets is undermining tourism and hospitality, causing serious harm to families, businesses, and the city as a whole. We must solve the ongoing problem creatively and cooperatively so that residents and tourists alike feel safe and regain confidence in law enforcement.
Burglars have become so effective at evading capture that in 2017, of the 31,000 auto-burglaries which were actually reported to the police, arrests were made in less than 2 percent of all cases. It is impossible for the District Attorney to prosecute the remaining 98 percent. Those few who are arrested and prosecuted successfully are harshly punished, to make up for the tens of thousands who get away. For example, in 2019, a man who was convicted of a single auto-burglary was sentenced to nine years in state prison. But that lengthy sentence will do nothing to deter the thousands of burglars who know they have more than a 98 percent chance of avoiding arrest. Thus we need a more nuanced, sophisticated, effective approach to deterrence and detection than the status quo. We need a radical change.
Perpetrators of Property Crimes Can Be Divided into Two Separate Groups
Chesa Boudin knows from years of experience in San Francisco criminal courts that auto-burglars fall into two broad categories. First, there are sophisticated criminal networks with fencing operations across the state and beyond. This group is responsible for the majority of auto-burglaries and often drive into San Francisco from out of the county and work in teams. Second, there are homeless and addicted people, who are committing crimes because of poverty and out of desperation. We must approach these two groups differently.
Organized Crime – Effectively Confront Sophisticated Actors
For the first group – sophisticated criminal networks - Chesa Boudin will develop equally sophisticated policing and prosecution strategies in partnership with other law enforcement agencies. For example, he will implement the use of decoys with tracking devices that allow law enforcement not just to catch one burglar at a time but also to take down the entire network behind them. Chesa Boudin will encourage and support a dedicated police unit that addresses property crime city wide by appointing officers at each station whose job it is to report investigate and address these crimes.
Auto burglaries present a unique opportunity for San Francisco to partner with other Bay Area law enforcement agencies. California State Assembly member Kansen Chu recently presented $3.75 million newly-secured state funding to Bay Area police departments specifically to address smash and grab auto burglaries. Santa Clara, Milpitas, Fremont, Newark, and San Jose police departments will each receive $750,000 – and have announced that they intend to work collaboratively.
San Francisco can add its data and resources to this collaboration in an effort to not only stem auto burglary within city limits but also to be a good civic citizen to surrounding communities who feel the effects – good and bad - of changes in San Francisco. We know that burglars come to San Francisco from all over the Bay and we know that goods stolen from cars and businesses in San Francisco are fenced across the Bay and beyond. We must start working together across the Bay to detect, deter and derail the burglary operations plaguing our city.
Treat Root Causes of Crime
The second group–people who are committing crimes because of poverty and addiction–must be treated differently if we want to decrease the number of property crimes. This second group is composed of people who commit smash-and-grab auto burglaries out of desperation and addiction. People for whom tough on crime tactics like harsher sentences will have no impact on whether they commit a crime in the future. In other words, attempts to reduce property crime by modulating the duration and harshness of punishment has been, predictably, futile. Moreover, becoming increasingly punitive with this group has actually exacerbated the problem. By incarcerating someone who is homeless or addicted or who suffers from mental health challenges, we only further destabilize that person and create situations where they are more likely to commit crimes in the future.
Instead, we need to address the root of homelessness and addiction that is so prevalent on our streets that leads people to commit crimes of desperation. These are cases Chesa Boudin will address by implementing his extensive restorative justice policy coupled with his comprehensive mental health policy. The long term goal is to decrease the number of poverty crimes committed by relieving people of their desperation and turning them into productive, tax paying members of society. Every arrest must be an opportunity for intervention and transforming lives away from crime.
Heal The Harm
One of the biggest frustrations to most victims of auto-burglaries is the cost of replacing the window (as well as the stolen goods) and the inconvenience of taking time out of busy schedules to deal with cleaning and repairing the damage. Currently, the criminal process has unlimited resources to punish perpetrators but virtually no resources to help heal the harm. Chesa Boudin proposes a private-public partnership to launch a mobile auto-glass repair operation which will respond directly to the scene of burglaries and repair the broken windows for a fraction of the cost. Victims would simply take a picture of the broken window and upload it along with other details. The auto-glass repair team would arrive within 3 hours and fix the window on the spot. While we work to reduce the number of burglaries and increase the percentage who are arrested and held-accountable, the least we can do is to heal the harm.