Car thefts have become a part of life for out-of-state tourists in California because of a loophole in state law that leaves many break-ins unpunished.
Law enforcement is stymied by a state law that says it only counts as a felony burglary if the car doors were locked, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
“It’s ridiculous that under current law you can have a video of someone bashing out a car window, but if you can’t prove that the door is locked you may not be able to get an auto burglary conviction,” Democratic state senator Scott Wiener, who proposed changing the law but got pushback for the second year in a row, told the Los Angeles Times in December.
According to a tracker published by the San Francisco Chronicle, an average of 66 “smash-and-grab” car thefts were reported each day in San Francisco in December. Many more go unreported.
Wiener stressed that many of the victims of car theft are tourists who have no way of returning to testify that their car doors were, in fact, locked.
“Our car windows got busted," McCray said. "I didn’t bother making a report."
Despite being in the police department, she added, "We're not immune to that."
According to the LAPD, theft statewide has multiplied to 243,000 recorded in 2018, above the annual average from the previous eight years with 223,000. The department discovered a trend.
"Just ask anybody. You know it. We feel it. Crime is really out of control," says City Journal contributor Erica Sandberg, who lives in San Francisco and has reported extensively on the city. "Whether it's property crime or even violent crime, it's scary."
Suspects were largely Bay Area gang members traveling in rental cars to make it harder to track them to Southern California. Thieves swiped luggage, shopping bags, and other valuables from unsuspecting tourists with out-of-state license plates at shopping centers, museums and other high-traffic spots.