EXCLUSIVE: SF business owner patrols neighborhood with imitation gun, ski mask to scare off thieves

"Every day is a small victory. You chase them off from one corner. You chase them off from this street."

Luz Pena Image
Friday, July 14, 2023
EXCLUSIVE: SF business owner patrols neighborhood to ward off thieves
Armed with an imitation gun and a ski mask, one San Francisco business owner has taken it upon himself to protect his neighborhood from thieves.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Last year in San Francisco, there were more than 20,000 reported thefts from vehicles. ABC7 News reporter Luz Pena spoke to a San Francisco resident and business owner who has taken it upon himself to fight back and protect his neighborhood.

He's lived in San Francisco for over 20 years and lately instead of going by his legal name, people call him "Boots." "I'm called Boots. I'm working outside rather than inside."

Covering his face with a ski mask to protect his identity, Boots walks around his neighborhood of Fisherman's Wharf with a non-lethal weapon that looks like a gun. His goal is to scare off thieves from breaking into cars.

INTERACTIVE: Take a look at the ABC7 Neighborhood Safety Tracker

"The criminals are getting to know us. I wouldn't call it an organized anything. It's just concerned citizens," said Boots and added, "Every day is a small victory. You chase them off from one corner. You chase them off from this street."

For years, he's captured videos of car break-ins and now he says frustration led him to take matters into his own hands. He says he's doing it to save the area where he lives and owns a business.

"The tourist aren't going to come here. The business of some people that have lived here and have been here their entire lives and it's not fair," said Boots.

According to SFPD's incident data, on average there are 67 thefts from vehicles every day in San Francisco. Outside Eight AM, a brunch spot on Columbus Avenue employees see car break-ins happening on a daily basis.

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"They just leave all their stuff in there and then boom shakalaka, in less than 5 seconds they grab your stuff and they are gone," said Kenny Nguyen who works at Eight AM.

Many who work here share a common sense of helplessness.

"I'm frustrated too. You can't do anything," said Nguyen.

Wednesday while Boots was patrolling the area hoping to deter thieves, he was arrested by SFPD for brandishing an imitation firearm which is a misdemeanor. Boots could face charges.

"We don't recommend anyone doing that. We understand everyone's frustration. Officers are frustrated and taking the number of police report regarding auto burglaries occurring throughout the city. However there is a system in place to do that," said SFPD's Officer Robert Rueca.

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SFPD says they are short-staffed but to Boots even though he was arrested, he viewed it as another victory.

"While police were there, nobody was getting their car broken into for that half hour," said Boots.

There's no way to know if what he's doing is working, but we met this couple from New York who did the unthinkable.

Luz Pena: "I see your suitcases in the back."

Victoria Warren: "Yes. I guess we are lucky that nothing happened."

Or maybe thieves are noticing.

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"There is some protection here," said Boots.

SFPD acknowledged they cannot respond to every car break-in. They said they are 570 officers short and that's keeping them from having dedicated officers available for these crimes.

Boots says he is aware of the dangers and is considering moving out of San Francisco.

"I'm probably going to end up shot. I'm probably going to end up hit and run over. Killed or something if I stay here," said Boots.

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