‘We are f***ed,’ an exasperated police officer candidly declares as he patrols a Chevron gas station in Oakland, California, during the morning rush.
The spot is one of three gas stations that surround Oakland Airport and which have become notorious for vehicle thefts. Within a single square mile, cops claim criminals strike a dozen times or more per day, every day, mainly targeting victims who are headed to and from the airport.
But the officer, who’s picked up an overtime shift to keep watch and act as a deterrent, wasn’t just referring to the theft epidemic when he made the strikingly blunt assessment.
He was referring, in his words, to the ‘restrictive’ policies passed by city and state lawmakers which mean police officers can’t even pursue the thieves because smash-and-grab theft is a ‘nonviolent crime‘.
‘We can’t do a car chase on nonviolent crime,’ he told DailyMail.com from the seat of his police cruiser. ‘I can go behind the cars and try and turn on my lights, but why would they stop?’
Suspects are aware of these policies and it means if they flee at speed, police often won’t even follow. This cop is simply there to try and prevent crimes taking place.
Less than a mile away from the Chevron, a Shell gas station on Hegenberger Road is also plagued by thefts. Around five hundred yards from the Shell, another Chevron is another hotspot. And next to that, the parking lot of an In-N-Out Burger is hit daily.
Police say the criminals, who operate in well-organized groups, follow the same playbook: a spotter keeps watch for targets, usually rentals headed to or from the airport, as they pull up at the gas stations.
They then alert accomplices, who pull up in a vehicle when the targets start to pump fuel. Often, they smash a rear window or pop the trunk of unlocked vehicles before making off with luggage and valuables. The thefts take just seconds.
The spike has earned the Shell the nickname ‘America’s most dangerous gas station’. The two Chevron sites are also top contenders for the unwanted title.
Online reviews for these gas stations and the In-N-Out are flooded with dozens of complaints from customers who were hit by the crooks.
One shocking video from the In-N-Out parking lot shows a thief smash into a black SUV in broad daylight. The crook leans, feet off the ground, through the vehicle’s rear window and snatches up several items before escaping into a waiting getaway car as more than a dozen onlookers watch.
Another clip from outside the Shell shows a thief deploy exactly the same method to steal a backpack from the trunk. Feet of the ground, he leans into a smashed rear window to scoop up loot before making an escape.
The victim said he was parked for less than two minutes. ‘Stay away from this place at all costs,’ the review said. ‘The thieves were bold enough to use my credit cards at this exact gas station later in the day.’
A cop who was patrolling outside the Shell on Thursday told DailyMail.com: ‘This has always gone on, but not to the extent it is now.’
The officer’s assessment is backed up by official crime stats for Oakland which reveal car theft has risen nearly 50 percent across the past year. There were 8,675 car theft cases in the city in 2022, compared with 12,956 last year.
The officer said they often see repeat offenders. ‘We see someone and they’re arrested, then a week later they are back out,’ the cop said.
He said the police public information office would be able to answer further questions, but the city’s media team did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
His colleague – the officer outside the Chevron who delivered the frank ‘we’re f***ed’ assessment – said that years of progressive policies have caused a decline in safety and made it harder for police to do their jobs.
‘It’s sad. This city is falling apart and if you ask the community, i’s the city getting worse?’ their answer will probably be yes,’ he said. The officer said he wasn’t authorized to speak out, but commented off the record because of his frustration.
‘If you look around this area, just like San Francisco downtown, stores are closing.
‘The common denominator for it is the rising crime all the leaders in this city are allowing this to happen by making policies that restrict the police doing their work.’
He points to a boarded up Starbucks opposite the gas station. It recently closed due to crime in the area, the officer said.
As he talks, a recorded warning plays on an endless loop through Chevron’s speakers: ‘Thank you for stopping at Chevron. Please do not leave your personal belongings in plain view while fueling your vehicle or visiting the store. Management is not responsible for any damages to your vehicle or lost items.’
The cop went as far as deriding ‘liberal policies’ from ‘progressive, woke people’ who are fixated on race – while point out that he is from an ethnic minori
A third cop who was station outside the other Chevron on 98th Avenue explained that not even visible police officers stop some crooks.
‘Sometimes [the thieves] don’t care. There are so many people doing it; old, young, kids and juveniles,’ he said.
‘It’s not just vehicle burglaries, it’s car jacking. If they see you just sitting in your car too long [they will strike].’
The site of this Chevron is also home to a Wendy’s restaurant, where a staff member showed DailyMail.com a video she’d recorded of a recent theft in progress.
The hooded suspect takes just seven seconds to smash into the trunk of an SUV, steal a backpack and then return to her getaway vehicle and escape.
‘In five to ten minutes, they break into like six cars,’ the woman said. ‘It’s really bad and it happens all the time, every day. They come before the police officers show up.
‘Sometimes they follow [targets] from the airport. But they are not just targeting people from the airport. They target regular customers too.’
One visitor to the Chevron who was targeted two weeks ago said: ‘They reached in the passenger side while I was pumping my gas and stole my backpack with laptop, iPad, Bose headset and much more. Guy at the rental car return knew exactly what happened to me and from which gas station. Oakland sucks.’
Another who was hit in October added: ‘Thieves smashed the rear window of our rental hatchback while we were pulling away after getting gas. We reacted too fast before they could get anything.’ That victim also said rental company staff were aware of the issue.
Oakland’s Democrat mayor, Sheng Thao, has tried to deflect blame for the uptick in crimes, which also includes a 38 percent spike in robberies between 2022 and 2023.
Thao, 38, who took office in January last year, said crime in Oakland ‘has been on a steady rise since 2019’ and it’s ‘dishonest for anyone to say that crime started rising under my watch only’.
The solution, according to officers on the ground, is to abandon the progressive legislation which has curved their powers.
‘It’s a social experiment and it’s not working,’ one said. ‘Why don’t we stick with things that work?’
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