In one case, armed robbers went into a jewelry store on Mission Street and gave the female shopkeeper a black eye before taking off with her cash. In nine others, thieves snatched cell phones from pedestrians – either right from their hands or in confrontations. The 23 other robberies included everything from cash to jewelry.
What’s unusual about August is that the month’s 33 robberies represented a 74 percent increase over July according to the Mission District Police Station. The same was true in the Castro – also the Mission Station’s territory: 19 robberies in July, turned into 33 in August for a total of 66 robberies reported to the Mission Station.
The Mission’s 66 and the Park Police district’s 95 robberies accounted for more than 50 percent of all the robberies in the city. Since the current form of these reports began in October 2009, the Mission Station has never seen more than 55 in one month.
“Yeah it was big,” said Captain Greg Corrales who at the end of the month, told community residents at the monthly meeting, “I can’t explain it.”
He suggested that August might end up being part of the normal fluctuations in a year, explaining that compared to 2010 robberies are only up 2 percent so far this year.
“I think its just you know, sometimes you have those periods, sometimes the figures go high one month and three months later they’re down,” said Corrales.
However, looking at the numbers shows that this is not the case. Given the average number of reported robberies, which is approximately 40 for four-week periods since October 2009, the likelihood of a month with 66 robberies being part of a normal fluctuating year is statistically almost zero.
What was clear is that for the last couple of years, cell phones have become a new and easy target. And, like other robberies, the majority occur in one geographic area.
“Smartphones, especially iPhones, have created an opportunistic thief,” said Lieutenant Mark Coda, who is in charge of investigating the Mission Station’s robberies, burglaries, auto boosts and theft.
ATMs, he said, used to be mugging sites when they first went up, but with security cameras, the smart thief has turned to cell phones.
The attentive robber can find any number of pedestrians gazing into their iPhone screens or yacking away, oblivious to their surroundings. Snatching the phone and running off takes seconds. Especially if the victim is drunk.
“Very often the victims are intoxicated, and the cell phones are the hot item,” said Corrales “Of course, sometimes they’ll demand everything,” but iPhones are a big win for thieves.
Missionites are vulnerable to “iJacking” or other robberies primarily in the two-block radius of Mission and 16th streets. Nearly half of the August robberies took place there. Many of the others were further south along or just off Mission Street.
The jewelry store robbed on Mission Street, for example, was near 20th Street. It was robbed for the third time in two years last month. The owners declined to talk, but Ramón Gonzáles, 55, who owns Angie’s Jewelry directly across the street said the men “went in with a gun and the lady tried to do something, but they hit her.”
“They’re scared, they’re going to move,” said Gonzáles referring to the elderly owners.
Gonzáles said the owners were vulnerable because they never installed a security system.
“You need to put in a camera and alarm…then the police come in two minutes.”
Having many employees on duty and visible surveillance, he said, has kept robbers from targeting his store.
Though Gonzáles returns to San Mateo after work, he said he feels safer walking around the Mission in daylight than he did 10 years ago. He doesn’t know anyone who has been robbed walking around in daylight, he said, his phone tucked safely away in his shirt pocket.
Coda and Corrales agreed that keeping your cell phone hidden is a good idea. At last month’s community meeting Corrales estimated that “easily 50 percent of our thefts are phones.”
Rarely, said Coda, are people reunited with stolen phones because criminals are an “unlocking an iPhone” Google search away from a re-sellable phone worth more than $100.
Coda advised residents to stay aware, especially in crowded areas. And save texting until after you leave the crowded BART stations.
If you need to report a robbery, call the SF Police Department at 9-1-1 or 415-553-0123.