It’s an issue all over the country: thieves smashing vehicle windows to steal anything left inside. They’re called smash and grabs, and in San Francisco, the problem has reached epidemic proportions, with car break-ins happening an average of every 17 minutes.
Inside Edition’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero wanted to see first-hand how bad the thefts are, so she used a $250 speaker and a Michael Kors purse as bait to lure thieves to a car rigged with hidden cameras.
What the would-be burglars didn’t know was that Guerrero and her team also hid GPS tracking devices inside the speaker and the purse.
Guerrero then drove up and parked the bait car at the renowned Alamo Square in San Francisco, where tourists flock to take pictures of the famous "Painted Ladies" row of Victorian homes.
It wasn't long before a couple of Bonnie and Clyde wannabes strolled up and peered inside the vehicle.
They waited for the sidewalk alongside the park to clear before one of them threw up his hood and tried to bust out the front passenger window with a special glass puncher. When it didn't break, he punched at the back window, which instantly shattered.
He first reached in and snatched the purse. After tossing the bag to his female accomplice, he went back in for the speaker. He struggled to pull it out at first, but finally got it out and walked off in broad daylight.
Guerrero then activated the GPS units and pursued the thieves through the streets of San Francisco with the help of a smartphone app.
The GPS showed the suspects had hopped on a local bus. When it came to a stop, Guerrero took off after them.
She eventually caught up with them at a subway entrance.
“Hey you guys, what's going on? I'm Lisa Guerrero with Inside Edition," she said. “You've got my speaker right there. You just broke into my car.”
“What?” the guy said.
“We've got it on camera,” she told him.
She followed him as he retreated into the subway.
“Five million people are gonna see you steal that," she said. "So you can choose to give it back or not."
He refused to give it back and pushed Inside Edition's camera away.
“You know what? I’m just gonna call my mother,” the man said.
“You should call your mother; that is awesome,” Guerrero replied. “Can I talk to your mom?”
He said no, and then left the speaker on the floor and walked off.
Next, Guerrero turned her attention to the female thief, who had fled in the opposite direction when Guerrero first approached them near the subway entrance. The tracking device led her to a trash can, where Guerrero recovered the purse; the GPS device was still inside.
An area resident, who did not want to be identified, showed Guerrero how his nearby security cameras captured the whole smash-and-grab theft go down.
“It all lasted maybe 20 seconds,” he said, adding that he sees smash-and-grab robberies every day.
Remarkably, as Guerrero was conducting the interview, a car belonging to the Inside Edition crew was broken into, resulting in two broken windows and the theft of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment. That robbery was also caught on by surveillance cameras.
"We actually got hit twice in one day," Guerrero declared.
Police are still investigating, but of the 31,000 car break-ins reported in San Francisco last year, less than two percent have been prosecuted, according to police.