SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Park rangers will now join forces with the understaffed police department to help patrol nearly two dozen high-traffic parking garages in San Francisco after the city cut security contracts last year.
Tis' the season for shopping and that means the 22 city-owned public parking garages will be in high demand this holiday season. The question is: will they be secure?
Before the pandemic, security officers were present inside at least half of the city's high-traffic parking facilities at all hours of the day and night. In 2021, the ABC7 News I-Team first reported the city cut those security contracts in effort to save money.
Since then, SFMTA told the I-Team garage staffing has increased this year, but uniformed guards aren't present at most garages 24/7. Security has been beefed up in other ways.
"Staffing decisions are made on a garage-by-garage basis in response to the specific utilization and security trends observed at each garage," the agency wrote the I-Team. "We are focused on tracking the metrics of vehicle break-ins (VBIs) on a daily and weekly basis, and we have the ability to add additional uniformed security guards on short notice, if warranted."
"There have definitely been efforts made to improve the security around the parking garages," said Alex Bastian, the President of the Hotel Council of San Francisco. "And those efforts are very evident in Union Square."
Bastian said that even he has had his car broken into.
According to ABC7's Neighborhood Crime and Safety Tracker, vehicle thefts are up 14% city-wide, compared to the annual average over the past three years. In the area that includes Union Square, 479 vehicle thefts have been reported in the last year.
But both residents and tourists agree, a physical security presence would be ideal.
"I feel safe with the cameras, but if I see actual security, I feel better," said Mia Valverde, a San Francisco resident.
San Jose resident Rob Richards and his family drove up and parked in the Union Square street garage, but hesitated after seeing no physical security on site.
"I'm definitely worried," said Richards. "Anything they can do to make it feel safer."
A handful of visitors the I-Team spoke to said the presence of city ambassadors cleaning up and patrolling the area around garages gives a renewed sense of safety. SFMTA told the I-Team all the downtown garages are monitored with a combination of on-site staff, remote HD camera feeds, and police.
Now, park rangers will be added to the list to help.
In the meantime, more help is on the way. According to SFMTA, two security gates will be installed at the Union Square garage and the 5th and Mission garage by early December to help curb overnight break-ins. This comes from a $500,000 commitment from the city to address security concerns.
"I hope it will make it more comfortable to park here," said Richards. "We want to keep coming back."
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