With crime spiraling out of control in their city, residents of San Francisco's Marina District have turned to private security to patrol the streets and protect their families, with some saying they don't feel safe in their own neighborhoods.
"We don't feel safe in our neighborhood," resident Kate Lyons told KPIX-TV. "And we have an alarm, we have cameras on our property, but we want the extra security of having someone have eyes on our place."
Lyons and 150 other residents in the Marina District have hired the services of patrol special officer Alan Byard, who provides a measure of added security by patrolling the streets amid a surge in car break-ins and home burglaries.
"It's a nice area down here, people are afraid of what's been going on," Byard told KPIX. "They want a safe place to raise their kids. In the last year, I've had 10 of my clients move out of the city."
According to the news station, patrol special officers are private patrolmen overseen by the police commission.
Byard patrols the streets in his vehicle from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., keeping on the lookout for suspicious activity. Since the pandemic began in 2019, he said his residential clients have more than doubled from 70 to 150 households in the district, as well as businesses. He charges $65 per residence for his services.
The security expert said car burglaries are the biggest problem in the area right now. He's also dealt with homeless people sleeping on residents' doorsteps. Petty theft and burglaries are also common crimes, Byard explained.
Lyons said she'll often find stolen property including empty luggage dumped right outside her home. She reported that car burglars commonly break into vehicles parked at the Palace of Fine Arts, near where she lives.
"Especially at night, I don't walk with a purse, I'll drive, or I'll take an Uber, and it's beginning to become a daytime problem too," she said.
Allan Brown, a 20-year Marina resident, was asked by KPIX-TV if property crimes have gotten worse over time.
"Oh absolutely, absolutely. This place used to be – nothing would ever happen here," he said.
Local law enforcement said that fewer than a dozen auto burglary crews are believed to be responsible for most of the car break-ins in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to the Associated Press. But news reports and viral videos of brazen smash-and-grabs have called attention to these crimes.
Over the summer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported a 753% increase in car break-ins in the city's Central District from May 2020 to May 2021, including in top tourist locations like Fisherman's Wharf and Chinatown.
On Oct. 15, TikTok star and Australian singer-songwriter Clinton Kane was the victim of an armed robbery in Cow Hollow. Thieves held him at gunpoint and stole more than $30,000 worth of camera equipment from his parked vehicle.
In response, last week San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of "high-level leaders of organized auto burglary fencing operations."
"These break-ins hurt our residents, especially working families who do not have the time or money to deal with the effects, as well as visitors to our city whose experiences are too often tarnished after an otherwise positive experience," Breed said.
But even as she made the public announcement to fight back against break-ins, a couple visiting from Seattle were the victims of another car robbery just a few blocks away, KGO-TV reporter Lyanne Melendez tweeted.
Officials warn San Francisco residents and tourists should hide their belongings and park their vehicles in staffed lots wherever possible.