Ben Yu, a startup co-founder who lives in San Francisco, had his Mini Cooper stolen on Wednesday.
His car has already been through some trauma. "There's a lot of vehicle crime and property theft where I am," he told BuzzFeed News. He lives in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood. "I've had the windows smashed, the convertible roof slashed, and the battery drained by homeless people sleeping in it with the heat on several times." According to SFGate, reported car break-ins nearly tripled from 2010 to 2015, when there were nearly 26,000. That's more than 70 per day.
When Yu saw that his car was gone Wednesday morning, he realized he could track its location using the GPS in his Getaround app, which Yu uses to earn extra money when he doesn't need his car. Getaround is a service that allows people to rent their personal cars to other people.
After he opened the app and saw exactly where the thief was joyriding around San Francisco, he called 911 and told police that his car had been stolen, and that he knew where it was. The cops told him he needed to file a police report before they could do anything, so he went to the station and waited three hours for the report to be filed. Meanwhile, his car ran out of gas a whole city away in Brisbane, CA. The thief left it on the side of the road and stole the key.
He retrieved the car with no gas and no key... Then it got jacked again on Thursday.
According to his Facebook, Yu woke up at 8:15 am on Thursday and found that his car had been stolen again from almost the exact same spot. He guessed it was the same perpetrator as Wednesday's theft because that person would have already had a key.
How that happened: If you're letting people rent your car through Getaround, you leave your keys in your car, and the Getaround app locks the doors and disables the engine in case of a break-in. Yu's friend Travis Herrick had been using the Mini, and Herrick had used the normal key to lock the car instead of the Getaround app, though he still left the spare key in the car for renters. When the thief broke in for the second time, they could start the car and make away with it because the app hadn't hobbled the engine.
Yu called the San Francisco police again, and they told him he'd have to file another report before law enforcement could take action, despite the fact that he knew the exact location of the car again. After waiting at the station for an hour, an officer told him the police would intervene if he could see his stolen car. So Yu rented a car from Getaround, sped off to find his car himself, and livestreamed it.
In the livestream, he follows the GPS signal of the car as his friend Herrick drives. When they find it in a Safeway parking lot, they call the cops, who then apprehend the thief.
"I didn't think it would become violent," he told BuzzFeed News. "When I established visual contact, the police came. But if this hadn't been the world's most incompetent criminal, he would've gotten away with my car."
More than anything, Yu said, the encounter obliterated any faith he had in the police.
The first time the car was stolen, he told BuzzFeed News, he was willing to give police the benefit of the doubt. When police said he would have to file a report on the second day, though, he began to believe that police procedure did more harm than good.
As he wrote on Facebook, "What *really* gets me, and what *really* bothers me, is that if it's *this* hard and this ludicrously ridiculous to get the police to help me chase down a car that is literally being driven by the perpetrators for the past 2 hours that I have a literal GPS tracker for that shows exactly where the car is, and that ultimately they fail to apprehend the suspect or do anything about it for 1.5 hours while I'm mired in filing a police report, and that I have to literally track the suspects down myself is some absurd vigilante justice situation before the cops are able to apprehend them, how can I possibly have faith that the police will be able to competently accomplish their stated mission and responsibilities when it comes to far more important, serious, pressing, and traumatic crimes that are not material, superficial, and economic in nature, but threaten life and bodily harm and violation?"
He said his immediate plans for his car are to remove it from Getaround and to install security measures.
"Even with the engine disabled, people can still steal the key. That's $200 right there," he said. "I want to put in an alarm and security cameras, which I'd have to disable every time someone wanted to rent it from Getaround."
His Mini is with SFPD now; they're dusting it for prints, but he does not know what charges the thief will face, or if they will face any at all.
Getaround and the San Francisco Police Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Blake Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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