San Francisco residents smoke after police allow suspects in catalytic converter deployment to get away

It’s time to be a thief in San Francisco.

That was the message city cops sent in the pre-dawn hours on Tuesday when they responded to a 911 call about a man who had cut a catalytic converter from the bottom of the car. Officers arrived to find the alleged thief at the crime scene, learned he was under surveillance for a previous robbery, and then let him leave, with a car jack in hand – he even gave him directions to the nearest bus stop.

Roommates Lauren Lindsey and Morgan Heller witnessed the incident and the strange police response from their apartment on 24th Street and Anza Street in the Richmond neighborhood was left dumbfounded. They did everything right: they called the police, kept an eye on the person all the time, answered all the officers’ questions and agreed to take part in the case.

Nothing yet.

“Even if you put it all together with an arc on top, it still doesn’t work,” said 26-year-old Lindsay. “It makes you feel like the police don’t really care. It makes you feel helpless.”

Lauren Lindsey poses for a photo of herself looking out her bedroom window, where she witnessed the theft of a catalytic converter in San Francisco on August 17. Lindsey called the police and was shocked when they arrived but they let the suspect walk away with his tools.

Salgo Westsmith / The Chronicle / The Chronicle

It makes you feel helpless if you are a witness or a victim, that’s for sure. But for a thief, it would have to be more daring.

“If I was stealing things from cars, that would be an encouraging experience,” Lindsey said. “Even if I am caught red-handed, I have not yet been arrested.”

Sgt. Adam Lopsinger, a spokesperson for the SFPD, confirmed the outlines of the incident. Police from Richmond Station responded to a call about a car theft in progress at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, located the suspect, spoke to him and witnesses and eventually released the man.

“There is not enough probable reason to arrest the suspect,” Lopsinger said. “The release of a potential suspect… does not mean the investigation is over. In fact, it means that the investigation has just begun.”

The confusing incident is the latest example of seemingly city cops shrugging off crime, leaving city residents frustrated and wondering where their tax money is going.

“If you collect 100% of your salary, you should be doing 100% of your work,” Heller said.

Complaints about police inaction have been a common refrain in this column for months. Time and time again, residents report crimes, but see the police doing little or nothing about them.

Heller filed a complaint regarding the catalytic converter case with the city’s police accounting department. The online dashboard shows that of the 334 cases the department opened this year, the largest portion, 41.4%, relates to neglect of duty — up from 31.9% in 2016.

Despite the bloated complaints, city council officials hardly acknowledged them.

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