This is What Happens to the Stolen Cameras in San Francisco

A detailed investigation has revealed what happens to all of the stolen cameras and electronics that are pilfered from cars across San Francisco: they are all sold on the street — often within a matter of hours of theft — and in broad daylight.

PetaPixel has widely covered the car break-ins and robberies in San Francisco. Photographers were robbed while stuck in traffic, a photographer was shot by robbers after refusing to give up her camera, and last October a photographer was followed home and robbed of his gear at gunpoint after photographing the Golden Gate bridge. In December, a photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle was robbed at gunpoint in Oakland. PetaPixel contributor Jefferson Graham was robbed in San Francisco while filming a spot last year.

At the end of last month, a Canadian camera crew was robbed of $35,000 of gear at gunpoint.

In a new report from ABC 7 in San Francisco, reporter Dan Noyes found a man who has identified one location where many of these stolen items are bought and sold: an open-air market at Garfield Square in the Mission District, in broad daylight and across the sidewalk from children playing soccer. Not only has he located the high-traffic area, but he also caught troves of transactions on camera.

Stolen Cameras and Computers Sold in Broad Daylight

Noyes was contacted by a local resident who has spent the better part of a year watching the illicit transactions take place outside his home window. The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, started recording the street when he realized what was going on. Since he started his watch, he says he has seen large amounts of high-value products bought and sold, including laptops and cameras.

He has also watched the buyers of the stolen goods take bags to a nearby trashcan and throw away everything they don’t see of value, which has included passports, vaccine cards, personal files, and more. In one case, he recovered plane tickets and a visa from the trashcan and was able to return them to one of the victims, a businessman who was visiting the city from Mexico. He did the same with a passport and bag he recovered on another occasion and, in that case, it had been stolen no more than an hour previously.

Particularly damning is that the resident shared this information, including photos and videos that contained detailed descriptions of all the suspects, with the San Francisco Police Department last year. The result? Nothing that he can see.

San Francisco Police and District Attorney Blame Each Other

Noyes spoke with Hillary Ronen, a supervisor for the Mission District, who says that they are aware of the problems and she and Mayor London Breed have come up with a plan to help address it: the requirement for streetside vendors who often sell stolen goods to get a permit in order to do so.

“If they don’t have a permit, then the Department of Public Works can confiscate their goods and say you can’t sell,” she says.

But Ronen also admits that she and Mayor Breed did not consult the police on the plan.

Captain Gavin McEachern of the San Francisco Police Department says he wasn’t in his command when the resident’s email that contained all the evidence was sent in, but claims if he were things would be different. Even so, he says that trying to catch these criminals is hard because the police aren’t allowed to engage in high-speed pursuits for property crimes, and the criminals know it. If they see a police officer, they just speed away and the police can’t chase them.

The police union president says that, additionally, officers feel as though nothing they do will go anywhere as they believe that District Attorney Chesa Boudin won’t prosecute the cases to the fullest extent. Instead, the people get arrested and are just released and return to commit the same crimes.

The District Attorney’s office points the finger at the police department and argues that they made arrests in less than 1% of car break-ins last year.

At the time of publication, the buying and selling of stolen goods on the side of the street in the Mission District still takes place as it has for at least a year, and seven months have passed since the concerned resident submitted his evidence-filled report. No arrests have been made.