Tourist robbery points up rising San Francisco issue with property crime

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- Tuesday's robbery and shooting of a tourist from Thailand over his camera is a recent example of the dramatic rise in property crimes in San Francisco.

Whether it be visitors or residents, this type of crime is of concern.

Whether it be a smash and grab or a mugging, , KTVU has learned the reasons why property crimes are  becoming increasingly attractive to criminals.

Small but valuable items like cameras, cell phones, and iPads are highly desirable to thieves. Police say criminals who used to deal drugs have now veered away from it.

"They've now transitioned to property crime so some of these very same folks...they don't need the overhead to get into the narcotics business," said San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr.

It's a quick way to make money and often the thieves do little or no time behind bars.

"These career criminals are smart enough that they're gaming the system," said Suhr.

According to San Francisco Police,  citywide, property crimes are up more than 20 percent compared to the same time last year. Auto burglaries are up 45 percent.

Miguel Soto of San Francisco showed KTVU the blue minivan that was stolen from him recently.   He got it back.  But police say the thief only received probation after the felony was reduced to a misdemeanor.

"They let the guy out.  They're going to be doing the same thing," said Soto.

Police say criminals are often not doing the time for the crime because they know San Francisco tends to be lenient. 

In neighboring San Mateo County,   District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe says his office recently prosecuted a car theft suspect who had been arrested many times in San Francisco.

"He was driving the wrong side of Geneva Blvd in Daly City.  He got arrested for a stolen car.  We sent him to state prison.  He was shocked.  He said, 'I knew I shouldn't have come to this county, '" said Wagstaffe.

Many in law enforcement blame prop 47 in part.  It was passed by California voters last November.  It reduces certain crimes such as shoplifting and grand theft from felonies to misdemeanors if the value is less than $950.

"Most counties have the mistaken notion that in San Francisco, we don't prosecute crime.  We do," said Alex Basitan, spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney's Office. 

Bastian says crimes trend up and down regardless of Prop 47 and that it's too early to tell if the measure has any bearing on the high rate of property crimes. 

He says Prop 47 is a balanced approach.

Bastian posed the question: "Is it fair for someone who's caught with a small amount of drugs to go to prison for 3 years?" 

But critics say addicts steal to feed their habit and the very same people are often repeat offenders because thieves know how to stay out of jail in San Francisco.

Chief Suhr says in many cases, thieves are right back on the street quickly.

He says amendments are needed to the current laws that allow people not to do the time for the crimes they've committed.

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