An NBC Bay Area hidden-camera investigation provides a rare glimpse into a rising surge of criminal activity across San Francisco that continues to prey on the city’s most famed landmarks and popular tourist destinations. San Francisco’s nearly 30,000 car break-ins last year shattered previous crime records and illustrate an organized and elaborate crime operation that law enforcement calls an “epidemic.”

It happens in seconds. A tap on the glass, a quick grab into the car. In less time than it takes to read these words, valuables vanish from a car: laptops, phones, passports.

Alamo Square, the famed home of San Francisco’s Painted Ladies, is ground zero.

‘It’s a Real Black Eye’

“They come in, drop the car off, just quickly run up and go take a picture, and the next thing they know they come back and their windows are smashed,” said one car break-in victim, who did not want to be identified for fear of his own safety.

Over the past two years, he has provided police with video of at least 50 car break-ins, recorded with his own home surveillance cameras.

“It’s basically one per week,” he said.

He showed NBC Bay Area video of a vehicle that pulls up alongside a parked car in the middle of the day. As people mill around and take pictures of Alamo Square, a man jumps out of the car, breaks a window, and takes as much as he can carry. In another video, a thief dives into a car through the broken window – his legs dangling in the air – as he grabs at the contents inside.

“It’s a real black eye,” said the man who recorded the crimes. While he has been able to capture the crimes on video, he said he is frustrated at how few burglars police catch and lock up.

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