It’s been a productive year for cops and robbers in San Francisco’s Mission District, and a dangerous time to be a smartphone owner.
As of the end of August, the neighborhood has seen a sharp rise in robberies, with 34 percent more incidents compared to the same period last year, according to San Francisco Police Department CompStat data.
Robert Moser, Mission District police captain, said his data indicates robberies are up 41 percent for the year. Meanwhile, police arrested a whopping 147 percent more robbery suspects in the Mission than in the first eight months of 2012.
Moser said: “It’s hard to say” why. “Robberies, like a lot of street crimes, are cyclical. They kind of come in waves, up and down.”
Of the robberies, most occurred on Mission Street between 16th and 24th, frequently around the highly trafficked BART stations, said Moser. Smartphones are the most common targets, and police warn pedestrians to be particularly careful when using their phones in the area.
In response to smartphone robberies, District Attorney George Gascón sent out a statement this week asking iPhone users to update to the newest operating system, which includes a feature, “Find My iPhone Activation Lock,” designed to make stolen iPhones easier to track.
The upward trend in robberies began in February, with an unusually high 71 robbery reports – a 57 percent increase from January and a 129 percent jump from February 2012, according to police data. The number of reported robberies dropped back down to 42 in March, but started to pick up again in the summer. In May to the end of August, the Mission saw a total of 271 robberies, about 43 percent more than in summer 2012.
To many in the Mission, the numbers aren’t surprising. Munstasir Alkhrissat, 21, works in the Mission, and waits for the bus near the busy 16th BART station almost every day. He often witnesses criminal activity, arrests, or evidence of crimes committed, such as broken car windows, he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of trouble around here,” said Alkhrissat.
William Jackson, 60, who was selling newspapers on Mission Street Wednesday afternoon, echoed a similar sentiment, noting that he’s seen brazen robberies in midday. “The Mission don’t surprise me,” he said.
However, others in the neighborhood say it’s been a relatively quiet summer, including Alex Suen, who has owned Mona’s Apparel on Mission Street for more than 30 years. Suen hears about strangers being mugged in the area, but hasn’t experienced any serious incidents this year, he said.
“To me it’s not bad,” Suen said. He added, pointing to the corner of 16th and Mission: “But of course it’s much worse over there.”
Moser chalks up the rise in arrests to good police work: saturating the most crime-ridden areas with officers, following up with robbery victims and getting good information from witnesses and surveillance footage.
“When you look at a particular crime going up, what I’m really concerned with is, ‘How are we doing in terms of arrests?’” said Moser.
Almost all arrests stemmed from incidents reported this year, he said, though he wasn’t sure how many led to charges.
The District Attorney’s office didn’t return a request for comment.
Many robberies in the Mission are crimes of opportunity, Moser said, so police advise pedestrians to be conscious of their environment and stay in well-lit streets at night to avoid becoming victims.
“Being aware of your surroundings is number one,” he said. “It really is key.”