San Francisco police increasing patrols in popular tourist areas, but will it be enough?

ByKen Miguel and Phil Matier KGO logo
Friday, August 13, 2021
SF police to increase patrols in most popular tourist areas
San Francisco is expected to see more than 15 million tourists this year, which could mean billions of dollars for local businesses.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Despite the pandemic, San Francisco is expected to see more than 15 million tourists this year Those tourists could pump $3.5 billion into local businesses.

One of the keys to Building a Better Bay Area is making sure that those tourist feel safe and that they will want to come back.

That's why San Francisco is putting more officers on the streets in popular parts of the city like Union Square, Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf. But will it be enough?

And what is being done to curb the brazen thefts from stores that is being seen worldwide?

RELATED: Target, Walgreens make drastic changes due to increase in San Francisco thefts

When you say shopping in style in San Francisco -- you're saying Union Square.

Gucci, Hermes, Neiman Marcus, it's an outdoor show that glows with color.

There was a time when San Francisco's Union Square was the destination for the latest fashions. In the 1950s, crowds gathered to see what was hot. But today, the new trend everyone has been talking about -- theft, like one in early July. Police say an organized group swarmed the Neiman Marcus, stealing tens of thousands of dollars in designer handbags.

Despite these high-profile incidents, SFPD crime data shows declining incidents of property crime in the city so far this year. As of July 4, larceny theft is down 8.8% this year compared to the same point last year. In the same time period, robbery is down 11.9%, yet burglary is up 4.2%. In 2020, larceny theft was down 39% year-over-year, according to SFPD crime statistics.

VIDEO: Video shows stream of handbag thieves sprinting out of San Francisco Neiman Marcus

Police are investigating a case of shoplifting at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco's Union Square, where a group of suspects bolted out the store with designer bags in hand before jumping into waiting cars.

But all the numbers pale compared to the impact of thieves running out of Neiman Marcus with $50,000 worth of handbags.

Phil Matier: "How shocked were you when you saw that video of those people running out with those purses across the street?"

San Francisco Police Sgt. Tobius Moore: "Honestly, for me, 10 years ago I would have been more shocked, but for today? It is not just here, you're seeing that on the news everywhere. So, it's disappointing that it is here. I have a lot invested in this city, you know, I work and I live here."

Most of the stores in this area have increased their security, some even hire off duty police officers.

But as retailers struggle with brazen robberies and thefts, many luxury retailers are now requiring appointments or keeping pandemic capacity limits to restrict the number of people inside stores.

"The last guy I talked to at one of the Union Square meetings said he liked the lines because it slowed down the thefts," said SFPD Sgt. Carmichael Reyes.

Sergeants Reyes and Moore, are walking the streets of Union Square today as part of the San Francisco Police Department's Tourism Deployment Plan, a plan explained by police Captain Julian Ng.

Phil Matier: "Now one of the reasons you guys are out here flooding the district is here in Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf in the in the tourist attractions is people want to feel safe. That's right now, do more cops on the street actually make the streets safer? In your opinion?"

Capt. Ng: "Of course. Of course. Of course it does. I mean, I think, you know, crime is one thing, you know, on perceptions. The other one and you kind of alluded to it, right? When I say perception that means the fear of crime. Right? So even if crime is down, and there's a perception or fear of crime is still high, then it doesn't, you know, the perception is there's a lot of crime. "

The reason?

RELATED: CA Retailer's Association president calls out DA Chesa Boudin amid SF's spike in organized crime

Capt. Ng: "Well, it's for a lot of reasons. The main big reason is high visibility, police presence, and you see it all around the square as well."

Phil Matier: "What difference does that make?"

Capt. Ng: "It makes a difference because everybody sees that there's officers out here, right? So (what we're) doing is prevention, to deter the crime before it happens."

Phil Matier: "And how much time do you think we will be able to keep cops at this level? In this part of the city? Well, I've seen him come and go".

Capt. Ng: "I'm very hopeful. I mean, we have full-time beats. You know, we talk specifically about Union Square, we have officers that are dedicated foot beats the Union Square, it doesn't change with overtime or not overtime, right? So tourism deployment definitely helps. But it will also have like, you know, reserve officers that come out and do foot need to have our foot beats. You know,"

Phil Matier: "The retail sector, you have car break-ins at Fisherman's Wharf, you got your hands full?"

Capt. Ng: "We certainly do. And you mentioned it eight, eight of the 10 most iconic places to visit here in our district, essentially. And we are battling some rise in auto burglaries as a big issue down at the wharf. Again, you know, we're looking back the three, the three prior weeks, we've seen some very positive decrease."

VIDEO: Suspect from viral SF Walgreens heist video to face 15 charges, San Francisco DA says

The charges are in connection to seven shoplifting-related cases that occurred between May 11 and June 19, the San Francisco DA's office said.

Phil Matier: "How much time do you think it'll take for us to get back to what was the old normal as far as safety?"

Capt. Ng: "Well, I think we're heading towards that right now. It's, it's looking good. It's looking positive. Again, you know, with the advent of social media, it's a lot of perception to right. I mean, if you look at hard data, I think the chief announced it a couple months ago, if you look at the hard numbers, the climb is not, you know, rising at an at a rate where people think, but you know, social media is rising. So perception is there, right? But it's a good thing too is awareness, For me, so awareness, people know and see what's going on a little bit more than they used to. Right. So that's very important."

Kevin Carrol head's the city's Hotel Council and he is ready for any improvement.

Kevin Carrol: "We've been asking for, and we're starting to see more beat officers foot patrol officers out on the streets."

Phil Matier: "Does that really help with public safety, or is that more help with public relations in image?"

Kevin Carrol: "That helps with public safety absolutely. For our employees, and then also for our visitors as well. When they can visually see beat officers out on the street it provides them with a sense of security, and it also does provide security,"

Phil Matier: "But it doesn't do much for the homeless situation here or the panhandling, because that's not against the law?"

Kevin Carrol: "Correct. But anything else that's being done that is against the law, having a visual representation of police officers on our street, is critically important to our hotel industry and our tourism industry."

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