Where's my car?

Here's what happens when your car gets stolen in San Francisco

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Police say Honda Civics from the mid-'90s are particularly easy to steal.

By Rebecca Bowe

rebecca@sfbg.com

There's a great scene in The Big Lebowski that my friend reminded me of when I lamented that the San Francisco Police Department didn't seem to care that my car had been stolen.

Of course they don't, silly, this friend responded with a hearty laugh. It's like when The Dude asks a Los Angeles cop whether there are any "leads" on the whereabouts of his stolen car (along with the briefcase full of money inside).

"I'll just check with the boys down at the crime lab," the cop responds, a grin spreading across his face. "They've got four more detectives working on the case. They've got us working in shifts!" Then he bursts into peals of laughter.

When a San Francisco police officer arrived to take a report three hours after my initial call reporting a stolen vehicle, he seemed sympathetic. And he was totally honest: "We're not going to look for it," he assured me. "But we'll let you know if we find it."

Fair enough, I thought. It was a Saturday night in San Francisco. The SFPD probably had bigger problems on its hands, like shootings or armed robberies or naked acrobats. Clearly, the last thing SFPD was going to focus on was ferreting out my poor little mid-'90s Honda Civic.

Car theft, it turns out, is extremely common in San Francisco. Crime stats provided by SFPD show that from March 1 to Aug. 31 of 2013, a grand total of 2,784 cars were either stolen or almost stolen in San Francisco (the stats include attempted theft). The Ingleside District was the most heavily impacted, while the Mission and the Bayview weren't far behind.

Why do people drive off with other people's cars? "Suspects that steal cars have used them for other crimes," SFPD spokesperson Gordon Shyy explained. "There are also suspects that steal cars simply to 'joy ride.'"

Another lesson learned the hard way: If you think your car will not be stolen just because it looks like crap, you are mistaken. Shyy said that, nationwide, Hondas made in the 1990s are the most stolen vehicles.

"The reason being that the ignition is worn out over time, and a shaved key or other similar apparatus can be used to start the vehicle easily," he explained.

Becoming a victim of car theft was an eye-opening experience. For one, it appears that the closed circuit cameras blanketing my neighborhood were basically functioning as seagull perches, taken out of commission the day before for maintenance. So those expensive-looking security cameras served neither as a deterrent for car theft, nor a crime-fighting tool. At least I can rest easy in the knowledge that Big Brother has not, in fact, been recording my every movement.

SFPD stats show just 139 vehicles were stolen and recovered from March 1 to Aug. 31, roughly 5 percent of the total stolen (or almost stolen) in the same time frame. I got lucky, mine was recovered.

SFPD gave me just 20 minutes to retrieve it before calling for a tow truck, notifying me that my Honda had been located as I was on Muni. Looking for an exercise in futility? Promise that you'll be somewhere in 20 minutes, and then rely on Muni to get there.

But here's where faith in humanity was restored. Not only did the officers agree to accommodate me by staying put until I could get there, but a random fellow bus passenger — by the name of Carma (for real!) — offered me a lift.

And just as I got to the place where my Civic had been found, a neighbor who lived in an apartment just above the street popped his head out the window to ask if it was my car. I told him it was, and he said it had been sitting there abandoned for days, so he'd phoned the police. Lesson learned: Forget surveillance cameras. If your car gets stolen, just hope somebody out there is paying attention.

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