Captain Gaetano Caltagirone speaks about newly formed neighborhood crime unit at Mission Station. Photo by Julian Mark

The Mission and Taraval police stations are rolling out special units dedicated to solving the rising number of car break-ins and bike thefts in the city. The units officially begin work today, and other stations will form their units over the next year.

Police Chief Bill Scott, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, and District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee made the announcement today at Taraval Station, flanked by Mission Station Captain Gaetano Caltagirone and Taraval Station Captain Robert Yick, as well as various members of SFPD’s command staff.

The unit at Mission Station — composed of one lieutenant, two sergeants and one officer — will focus on identifying patterns and locating “trouble hotspots,” Caltagirone said. He said their work had begun long before Monday’s announcement.

“Day one is already past,” he said after the press conference. ”We’ve been working on this since I got to Mission Station.”

The units differ from a similar, though now disbanded, unit called the Patrol Bureau Task Force, which conducted plainclothes operations, surveillance, and often caught suspects in the act.

Scott explained that many of the 18 officers once part of the task force are now at district stations. “So that expertise is still there,” he said. “But it’s under the captains’ command in the local areas.”

In 2017, car break-ins rose 24 percent citywide from the previous year, according to the SFPD. In the Mission, car break-ins rose 184 percent in the first seven months of 2017, compared to the same period the previous year. All told, the city saw more than 30,000 break-ins in 2017.  

“It’s very humbling when you have this issue, and you can’t fix it the way you want to,” Scott said, calling for better coordination between the department, community members and the media.

The new units are one component in an overall effort by SFPD to address the explosion of property crime in the city, Scott said.

The effort began with a doubling of foot patrols citywide in September — and a quadrupling in the Mission. In November, SFPD configured a 48-investigator “general crime unit” that focuses on property crimes such as auto smash-and-grabs, bike thefts and burglaries.

These investigators have citywide jurisdiction, and focus on “connecting the dots,” Scott said.

Scott said the department is now on a search for a “crime strategy” officer who would examine new citywide crime strategies and work with district stations on developing those strategies.

The chief also said an effort is underway to better share information with other city departments, as he believes many of the auto burglaries are performed by crews that work throughout the Bay Area.  

“We’ve been pretty effective in identifying those crews, but we feel we can do better,” he said.  

In October, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution urging Chief Scott to create a plan to tackle auto burglaries.

Ronen said that she set her sights on the issue because many city residents cannot afford to constantly replace broken windows and stolen items — the costs of which she likened to a kind of “tax” that residents have to pay several times a year.

“My residents in District 9 cannot afford this tax any longer,” she said.

In spite of SFPD’s wide-ranging initiatives to curb property crimes, one word came up time and again from both cops and legislators: prevention.

“Don’t leave things in your car — don’t make things easier for” burglars, Scott said, mentioning the department’s Park Smart program, which is aimed at educating residents on how to store valuables in their cars.

“We really, really need to get the word out and make the targets as hard as we can,” Scott said.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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