Car-related crimes are on the rise on the Coastside, but local law enforcement officials say they can’t attribute local auto thefts and burglaries to the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Mateo County Sheriff’s Capt. Saul Lopez said crime is low in general in Half Moon Bay, but the most common instances are petty theft, usually from unlocked vehicles or other unattended property.

Over the last few months, there have been more catalytic converter thefts. Lopez said the burglars targeting catalytic converters are seeking the valuable metals inside, and will often commit a handful of thefts before moving on to a new area. He suggests using car alarm systems, cameras and well-lit driveways to deter thieves.

Lopez said fewer people are being booked into jail for petty crimes due to local and state legislation aimed at keeping jail populations low during the pandemic. Instead, many are released with citations, which could be hurting deterrence and encouraging repeat offenders.

“I think when there's stiffer consequences and people go to jail and through the process, it will check them to say, ‘Hey, maybe this behavior is not appropriate. There are consequences to my actions,’” Lopez said.

Most of the complaints on the South Coast are traffic-related, particularly speeders on the weekends, Lopez said. Vehicle break-ins at State Parks facilities also occur sporadically, but that’s under the jurisdiction of the state.

Farther up the coast in the Montara, Moss Beach and El Granada areas, Lopez is seeing similar trends. Much of the crime affecting the Midcoast is catalytic converter thefts; there have been 11 reported instances of stolen catalytic converters and four vehicle burglaries in the last 90 days.

“For such a vast geographic area, that’s a really low number,” Lopez said. “It’s a very low crime rate area. There really isn't a lot of property crime, even though we get thousands of visitors every weekend.”

Meanwhile, in Pacifica, auto-related crimes are spiking. Pacifica Police Capt. Bill Glasgo said the city saw a 25 percent increase in car burglaries over the last year, mostly near recreation areas where visitors park to visit the beach or trails. Many of the victims are out-of-towners, Glasgo said, adding that perpetrators target visitors during busy weekends.

Aside from the fact that crime tends to go up during tough economic times, Glasgo said he doesn’t see a direct connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in auto-related crimes. As restrictions ease due to declining case rates and more vaccinations, Glasgo said he is preparing for more visitors in the future, which could provide more opportunities for theft.

“It’s kind of expected,” Glasgo said. “Any coastal town in San Mateo County, if the temperature is above 65, 68 degrees and sunny, you're going to see an influx of visitors to the coastline.”

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