A new perspective

Robbed at gunpoint

On the evening of December 13th 2013 I was held at gunpoint and had to give off my camera, lens and tripod as I was taking pictures in San Francisco. Read below for my full story.

Here is a list of what was taken from me (see images at left). Anonymous tips can be given by clicking the links.

- Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, black, serial #230117654

- Canon EF 24-105mm f4 L IS lens, black with red ring and hood, serial #5195800 and date code UB0735

- Induro CT314 carbon fiber tripod legs, black, serial #CT018280

- Manfrotto 496rc2 tripod ballhead, black with red logo, serial #F0242916

- 32GB Kingston ultimate 266x CompactFlash card with some pretty great San Francisco skyline images AND pictures of the thieves!

All equipment was put together and taken with the lens on the camera and camera mounted to the tripod as I was taking pictures with it as I was robbed. If you have any information or you see any of the equipment offered for sale, please let me know through the link at the left of this page or by clicking one of the links above for anonymous tips.

Here is my full account of what happened:

On December 13th 2013 (yes, Friday 13th…) I raced my bike home after work and took the car to go take some nighttime San Francisco images. First I went to Yerba Buena and took some pictures of the new span of the Bay Bridge from an angle I had not done before. I then moved to the other side of the island and took some long exposure shots of the west span of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline with the christmas lights on this clear night. When I was done I drove to Potrero Hill in San Francisco for the main goal of the evening: pictures of the skyline and the highway in the foreground, a well-known shot for Bay Area photographers but my first time there. I drove around for a little while until I found the perfect spot, just below the junction with 19th Street in Texas Street. I put together my favorite kit (5DII, 24-105mm and tripod) a little bit on the street next to the parked cars and started shooting.

I first took some tighter shots of the city and highway and then decreased the focal length to include the steep street I was in. I was probably there for 20 minutes, trying to get a 30 second exposure without any cars with headlights on in the street (not easy at 8 PM). I then started taking pictures including the cars looking for parking and get some nice starbursts from their bright headlights.

I was almost ready to pack up but took a few more pictures while another car drove up in my direction, including the headlights in the shot. The car slowed down and the driver looked at me. Then, suddenly, a guy stepped out of the left rear door (on my side) with a gun drawn, saying: “give me the camera”, repeating it once or twice as I slowly stepped back with my hands up, too surprised to say or even think anything. He then awkwardly grabbed my camera and tripod setup, which was almost fully extended due to the slope I was on. He stepped backwards into the car and they sped off going south on Texas St, the tripod still sticking out the side with the side door not completely closed, because the idiot could not get the tripod to collapse. The car had stopped only about 8 feet away from me so as they drove off I could easily read the license plate. It all happened so quickly that only now the adrenaline got to me and I realized I had to write down the number or I would simply forget it. I noted it in my phone and grabbed my other camera gear which had been sitting on the ground right next to me in the shade of a car, fortunately unnoticed by the thieves. I stepped in my car and called 911. Within 2 minutes the police was in the area looking for the silver sedan with the plate and about 15 minutes lates two officers came to find me to get my statement. As we were talking, their colleagues had located the vehicle the thieves drove off in a few blocks south. Whether there was any sign of the thieves was not shared with me at that time.

The officer standing with me asked me for the specifics multiple times to make sure I did not change my story or forget any details. I told him the car was a silver sedan. I saw three people in the car but had only really seen the driver and the gunman (as the passenger was on the other side in the dark), both were African-American males (apparently BM’s in police code) in their late twenties. I could not give many specifics about the men as they were dressed in dark clothes and it was pretty dark. I did get a fairly good look at the gun, which appeared to have an extended magazine. At this time the police officer shared with me that they had had a few similar reports recently of 3 BM’s with a gun with extended magazine robbing people, mostly of their phones and cash. Sounded like these men are doing their christmas shopping the dishonest way. The policeman was surprised that I was not asked for my wallet or phone, but of course they had significantly more value in their hands already.

After a little while I was asked to join the two police officers to come with them and identify the vehicle they had found. My first time in the back of a police car! I hardly fit and of course it was not very comfortable. It took me a while before I noticed that the seat had recesses so people with their hands cuffed behind their back would fit! When we got to the car it was easy to identify: I had remembered the license plate after all, and it was still a silver sedan, a Chevy actually. Apparently it was a stolen rental car and the police had found some good fingerprints (but I personally doubt the value of fingerprints from a rental car), but no sign of the thieves. After finishing my written statement I was driven back to my car by a different officer and that basically concludes my story.

Since I was already there, I considered taking some more pictures with my other camera but decided not to. It seemed very unlikely to me that the thieves would come by again, but I did not want to be that person who had their camera stolen twice in one night! I will have to come back, hopefully this christmas season because otherwise the Transamerica ‘beacon’ may not be on and the buildings may not be lit as nicely. The only thing I just cannot decide on is whether I should bring other people next time. It might be safer, but I do not want to expose other people to the risk and take them to a place a “violent crime” had just taken place. After all, I was glad nobody else was with me and I did not have any borrowed equipment on me that got stolen. Hopefully I get a chance to retake my images, or - even better - find my camera with the images I already took. For that I ask you all that if you have information that could help me find my gear, please let me know! I have marked the location of the robbery and the place the car was found on the map below.

Now, what did I take away from this event? I am not sure. I think I did the right thing by just letting everything happen, although I have been thinking that I could have probably tried to chase the car, but this would have increased the risk and most likely not have made any difference at all. Also, I wish I had asked for my memory card with my images, but it is probably a good thing I did not. The robbers had no reason to grant me that request other than good manners but we already know that is not their strong suit and it would only have complicated the situation, a bad thing if you ask me. I suppose my lessons are these: first, don’t store multiple days worth of images on one memory card without backing up. I lost multiple days of sunrise and sunset pictures. Most can be retaken, but still I am very bummed out because there was quite some effort involved in these images. My second lesson is probably to try and stay around other people in picture locations like these, even though the neighborhood seemed nice and I had seen other people and cars around. My third lesson is that all of this DOES apparently happen. I had heard of robberies and seen them in movies but never thought it would happen to me as I thought I was careful enough and generally avoid shady areas. I suppose the thieves knew that is not where people take their valuables. It also strikes me how the crime follows the stereotype: three men in a stolen rental car rob a ‘tourist’ at gunpoint. This really does happen, people! My fourth and final lesson is to prepare for the unthinkable: at this point it looks like my insurance will only cover a small part of my loss. If you have valuable equipment of any kind, insure yourself against theft or loss.

That was my story, written down a day after the crime (which took place at 9:10 PM on a friday night). If you have any questions, do not hesitate to email me. Again, if you have any information on my stolen gear, please let me know! These guys do not deserve the nice equipment.


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