August 17, 2022

Opinion | ‘Crime Tourism’ Is Now a Thing in California?

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin poses outside his office on Jan. 30, 2020.



Photo:

Eric Risberg/Associated Press

The Golden State has long been a cultural trend-setter and a popular destination for leisure travel. But this is not a story about loading the kids into a metallic-pea Wagon Queen Family Truckster and heading out west. It seems that California is now attracting an entirely new category of vacationers.

Sid Garcia reports for KABC-TV in Los Angeles:

Law enforcement agencies call it “crime tourism” — groups of thieves from South America traveling to California to burglarize homes…

They’re able to easily obtain tourist visas to travel to California by applying online. Once they have a visa they land at LAX and start their crime spree.

Residents in one Camarillo neighborhood say they’re well aware of the South American burglary crews that have been targeting their community and the surrounding areas.

“Several of my friends have been hit repeatedly,” Camarillo resident John McGrath said… According to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, last year alone, they handled 100 cases involving crews from South America.

Betty Yu recently reported for

CBS

station KPIX in San Francisco that law-enforcement officials believe such crews are operating in northern California as well:

A quiet residential town on the peninsula has seen an increase in burglaries over the past four months. Hillsborough police say a specific group could be behind the troubling trend.

Many of the sophisticated burglary crews are coming from South America for “criminal tourism” and they are targeting wealthy communities, according to a community alert sent Sunday.

Of course California’s permissive politicians have enabled lots of homegrown criminals, too. Readers may recall Ms. Yu’s informative report last year in which she interviewed a local expert who memorably assessed the safety measures at a San Francisco supermarket:

I think that they’re not very good because I’ve personally been able to shoplift here with relative ease.

If it now seems easy enough for foreign gangs to rob neighborhoods in California even after factoring in the cost of airline flights and the hassle of dealing with the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, then perhaps California law enforcement could be making things just a tad more difficult. Or do the bad guys now steal enough to fly private?

This column recently asked if San Francisco had become the most intolerant place in America given the city government’s bizarre refusal to do business with most U.S. states. A number of readers argued that city officials were in fact extremely tolerant because they have been permitting all manner of crimes and misdemeanors to be committed against the citizenry. This seems especially true when it comes to theft.

The Journal’s Zusha Elinson reports from the city by the bay:

Although violent crime in San Francisco is lower than in many other major U.S. cities, business owners, residents and visitors here are dealing with a rash of thefts, burglaries and car break-ins.

Among the 25 largest U.S. cities, San Francisco has had the highest property-crime rate in four of the most recent six years for which data is available, bucking the long-term national decline in such crimes that began in the 1990s… Businesses have been affected in every corner of San Francisco, even traditionally low-crime areas such as the Sunset District, where commercial and residential burglaries rose 80% in between 2019 and 2021.

Michael Hsu’s

Footprint shoe store got broken into for the first time in February 2021. The thief used a blowtorch to crack the glass door without setting off the alarm and took tens of thousands of dollars worth of high-end North Face jackets. More people arrived soon after, taking whatever they could grab before they set off the alarm.

Mr. Hsu, who grew up in the Sunset, said he recalled thinking: “Oh, they finally got me.”

Eventually they’ll get everybody if there is no political will to protect and serve the community. Mr. Elinson notes:

Some former police officials said in interviews that officers don’t feel it is worth making an arrest in low-level cases because they assume the district attorney won’t file charges. They also point to a statewide ballot measure passed in 2014—Proposition 47—that raised the dollar amount at which theft can be prosecuted as a felony from $400 to $950.

In the San Francisco Chronicle Heather Knight describes the experience of Jennifer Sun and her husband, Ben, who bought a home in the city’s Bernal Heights neighborhood in 2020. Before moving in, they’d been waiting nearly a year for renovation permits to be approved when they received neighborhood complaints about their cars and lifestyle. Reports Ms. Knight:

Sun said she was shocked. They weren’t living there. What cars? What lifestyle?

So they visited the property, which had weird spray paint across the garage door and signs of people inside. They called police, who accompanied them inside the house where they found squatters had taken it over.

Photos the couple took show piles of furniture, clothes and a fridge full of food. Graffiti covers the refrigerator and walls. One message can’t be relayed in full because of antigay language, but it reads in part, “No soliciting. No shopping. No snitches.” They bashed holes in the walls and ceilings, wrecked a sink and other fixtures, left dog poop on the carpets and discarded needles and syringe caps around the house. Flies were everywhere. The house still smells bad.

According to the couple, police officers gave the squatters — all of whom appeared high — 10 minutes to collect their belongings and leave.

Unfortunately the squatters soon returned. “And it doesn’t sound like they’re merely people down on their luck. Photos show nice belongings, and neighbors reported them driving a Mercedes,

BMW

and Dodge Durango,” reports Ms. Knight.

The good news is that it doesn’t sound like voters want to tolerate more lawlessness. In a separate report, Ms. Knight recently noted:

San Francisco District Attorney

Chesa Boudin

has just 12 weeks left to make perhaps the biggest case of his career: convincing the city’s frustrated voters that he should keep his job.

But a new poll, commissioned by the campaign seeking to recall Boudin, suggests that might be a daunting task. Of 800 voters likely to participate in the June 7 election, 68% said they would vote yes on recalling Boudin. Seventy-four percent said they have an unfavorable opinion of him, and 78% rated his job performance as “only fair” or “poor.”

… The poll was conducted by EMC Research, a respected longtime polling company in the Bay Area that provided questions showing the poll was straightforward and not intended to steer respondents in any particular direction…

Many political observers have expected the June recall to be close — much closer than the rout of the three school board members last month. Unlike the school board commissioners who struck many voters as incompetent and unfocused, Boudin is mostly doing what he said he’d do during the 2019 campaign to replace District Attorney George Gascón, including diverting more people out of jail.

Mr. Gascón, who is now the D.A. in Los Angeles County, is also facing a recall. Alexa Mae Asperin for Fox station KTTV in Los Angeles reports:

The Recall DA George Gascón campaign announced Wednesday it has collected over 125,000 signatures, which is on track to meet the July 6 deadline for submission.

To qualify to be on the ballot, the recall must collect 566,856 signatures from registered Los Angeles County voters (about 10% of total current registered voters).

If successful, the recall would likely appear on the Nov. 2022 ballot…

The city councils of more than 30 cities in the county have issued “no confidence” votes involving Gascón.

How could anyone have confidence in district attorneys who have spent so much time describing the offenses they won’t prosecute?

***

James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”

***

Follow James Freeman on Twitter.

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