Two recent, violent carjackings — one of which ended shortly thereafter in a spectacular crash in a normally quiet part of San Francisco's Castro District — are examples of what seems to be an uptick in these types of crimes, many of which appear to be committed by juveniles.
SFist has long had a "Deplorable Teens" tag for headlines involving, typically, group crimes committed by kids under 18. But stories about these types of crimes, some involving violent robberies and/or carjackings, suggest a potentially larger trend happening in this post-pandemic period. Are kids around the Bay Area just running wild after being pent up for several years, or is this part of some different trend involving groups or gangs?
When a story came out in March about large groups of teens and tweens brawling en masse at Stonestown Galleria, we asked the same question — and SF Supervisor Myrna Melgar surmised at the time that part of the problem was kids being let out early from school on Wednesdays, heading to the mall with nothing better to do, and fomenting some anger on social media that fueled these brawls. These incidents came alongside a general uptick in violence at Bay Area middle and high schools.
A study that was published last year suggested that social-distancing could be a factor in juvenile crime rates — even if juvenile crime had declined overall in the last two decades. "Stay-at-home restrictions may have also impacted juvenile delinquency patterns, as social interaction plays an essential role in juvenile behavior," the study authors said.
The examples locally have been many in recent months. Multiple groups of teens appear to have been committing coordinated robberies in Oakland since the spring. Oakland police made nine arrests in May, suggesting the suspects, all juveniles aged 12 to 17, were linked to as many as 35 robberies. The crimes were all committed in relatively quiet and/or affluent neighborhoods in Oakland, including Rockridge, Grand Lake, Trestle Glen, Mosswood, Longfellow, and the town of Piedmont.
That spree led to an angry town hall meeting convened in late May by residents of North Oakland, at which Oakland police said they were investigating "several different robbery series" around the city at the time. Oakland police had previously put out a warning in April about a spate of carjackings and robberies that began with victims' cars being intentionally crashed into — with the help of stolen cars.
Similarly, women, sometimes accompanying children on the street, were being targeted for robberies recently in SF's Noe Valley and Alamo Square neighborhoods — and those crimes were also allegedly the work of groups of juveniles. We know of only one arrest that was made in late June in connection with those crimes, and that suspect is a juvenile.
All of this has been accompanied by a noted uptick in freeway shootings all around the Bay, some of which don't result in injuries.
Then came this past weekend. Saturday saw a carjacking near Dolores Park, in the vicinity of 19th and Dolores, which allegedly involved a group of juveniles who then drove the car off the cliff at the Sanchez Street steps and crashed upside-down. A photo of the suspects showed one carrying a skateboard, and police say they found a gun at the scene, but no arrests have been made.
On Sunday night, another violent carjacking occurred in the Oakland hills. As KPIX reports, following the pattern described in April, the victim was driving on Skyline Boulevard around 9 p.m. when she was rammed by another car. When the victim stopped her car, she was ambushed and robbed by multiple suspects who stole her BMW and her purse.
"I grew up in Oakland. I've been here my whole life. And it was not ever like this before," says Oakland resident Marvis, speaking to KPIX. "Yes, we need more police action. But that's only one part of it. One answer is that there needs to be more jobs for people to go into — to legitimately make money. One answer is that the education system has to be better."
Another Oakland resident who eluded an attempted carjacking in June, Elizabeth Gage, tells KPIX, "There's got to be a consequence for what these people do. If there's no consequence, why not do it again?"
Gage adds, "This is not a problem that's going to solve itself. This is an epidemic."
Carjackings are up 24% so far this year in Oakland, according to OPD data.
According to SFPD stats for the year to date, motor vehicle thefts are up 10% year over year in SF, though this does not break out carjackings specifically. Robberies are also up 13% compared to this same period last year. After a few violent weeks in San Francisco, homicides are also up 23% for this almost seven-month period — with 32 so far this year, compared to 26 during the same period last year.
Juveniles do not tend to be involved in the vast majority of violent crimes, according to FBI statistics.
Tracy McCray, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, spoke last month to ABC 7 about the seeming rise in juvenile crimes, and McCray put it this way: "We've come in contact with those juveniles. I think probably three or four of the same ones. And they're kind of part of this group, this clique where I think one of the youngest ones we ran into was 11 at the time... Some are coming from the East Bay, some have run away from their group homes, you know, down south or from the valley and are coming up to San Francisco."
Still, Mike Males, a senior research fellow for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, told ABC 7, "The number of juvenile robberies in SF is very small numbers now. There's hardly a juvenile crime wave."
Surely, though, these incidents put together seem to mark some kind of disturbing trend. And data from the spring from the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department showed that violent crimes by juveniles did appear to be on the rise compared to last year especially.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images