Over the past year, police departments have noticed an uptick in automobile burglaries. From Brentwood, to Oakley, to Pittsburg, local police logs have shown burglaries involving automobiles on the rise across the East Bay. This appears to match the trend in San Francisco, which has the highest rate of “smash-and-grabs” per capita of any other place in the country.
Some are blaming the rise in crime on Prop 47. After Gov. Jerry Brown signed the prison reform law, some nonviolent crimes were reduced to felonies, resulting in a number of inmates being released from state prison. Other politicians are blaming judges for being too soft on criminals. Meanwhile, the police say they need more manpower to curb auto burglary. From 2011 to 2014, the number of auto burglaries rose from just over 10,000 to almost 20,000.
According to an article in the East Bay Times, police believe many of the suspects are gang members, or homeless. The perpetrators use small hammer-like devices to quickly break car windows and take bags, money, or whatever electronic goods they can find inside. In some cases, automobile burglars are stealing guns as well.
“We have an auto burglary problem in San Francisco,” said former Police Chief Greg Suhr. However, with the increasing crime reports across the East Bay, San Francisco is not alone. The problem even extends to law enforcement officers. Last October, a California Highway Patrol officer had a gun stolen from his car. Last June, a federal agent also had a gun stolen from his vehicle.
Last year, dozens of gang members in the East Bay were arrested on suspicion of being involved in a number of auto burglaries across the area. Twenty-one members of Oakland's Ghost Town gang were indicted for auto burglary, suspected of taking part in more than 50 auto burglaries in at least 9 Bay Area cities. The thefts targeted laptops, mobile phones, ipads, and other easily sellable electronic devices. The gang would even rent cars to cruise through mall parking lots, then come back to specific vehicles.
Breaking into cars to steal contents is a type of burglary under California law. According to California Penal Code 459, every person who enters any vehicle (as defined by the Vehicle Code), when the doors are locked with intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony is guilty of burglary. This includes breaking a window to grab a camera, breaking open the lock of a trunk to take something inside, or using a lock-picking device to open a car with the intent to steal the car.
The penalties for burglary may depend on specific facts of the case. Auto burglary can be charged as a misdemeanor, or as a felony. A misdemeanor conviction for auto burglary can result in up to a year in jail. A felony conviction can mean up to three years in prison.
According to Lieutenant Chris Bolton from the Oakland Police Department, there are a number of precautions people can take to avoid becoming a victim of auto burglary. This includes not leaving valuables in the car, placing them out of sight, parking in busy, well-lit areas, making sure all windows are fully closed, doors are locked, and reporting suspicious activity.
If you or someone you know has been charged with auto burglary, you need the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. At the Gorelick Law Offices, attorney Lynn Gorelick has dedicated her legal career to defending people facing criminal charges in the East Bay. With more than 30 years of experience, Lynn Gorelick understands the consequences of a burglary conviction, and will make sure you get the justice you deserve. Contact the local East Bay criminal defense attorney who understands that you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.