For about the past 3 years, being a news crew in the San Francisco area is a dangerous job.
At least a dozen robberies of television news crews and still photographers have happened in that time. Crews have been robbed of thousands of dollars of gear. Two Photographers have been pistol whipped. An Oakland Tribune photographer lost five cameras in two incidents.
On July 2nd, two news crews were robbed during a live broadcast from San Francisco's picturesque waterfront.
As the news crew went live amid joggers and tourists, an assailant wearing a ski mask pistol whipped a KNTV cameraman and the broadcast quickly switched back to the studio. The assailant and two accomplices escaped in a late-model BMW with two stolen cameras and two tripods.
The cameraman sustained a gash behind his ear, but declined medical attention beyond what he received at the scene. The crews that morning were reporting on the shooting death of a young woman allegedly killed at random by a Mexican national living in the country illegally.
The AP writes that so far, no photojournalist has been seriously injured — but personal safety is becoming a higher priority. Assaults on routine assignments in the San Francisco Bay Area have become so commonplace that television stations have hired armed guards to sometimes ride with news crews.
Police on both sides of the San Francisco Bay are investigating the latest robberies and have made no arrests.
"We don't know what the market is for these cameras," said San Francisco Police Sgt. Michael Andraychuk. Even though the cameras can cost upward of $50,000 each, it is specialized equipment that can't be easily sold on the black market, Andraychuk said, and none of the stolen cameras have turned up on Craigslist, eBay or any other online marketplace.
Photojournalists in other parts of the country have reported robberies and assaults during riots and other chaotic situations, but San Francisco seems to have taken journalist assaults to a new level.
"It has happened in other places, but the frequency here is unprecedented," said Colin Wong, a former Oakland police officer who owns the security company hired by some stations to guard their crews.
n 2013, one of Wong's guards was accompanying a KRON reporter and cameraman when he shot and wounded a would-be robber in a rough San Francisco neighborhood. On July 21, thieves in Oakland made off with electronics stolen from a parked KTVU van while a guard stood watch over a two-person crew delivering a live report nearby.
"It's a huge issue for us," said Leonard Egert, director of the San Francisco officer of SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents most on-air reporters in the Bay Area. "Our reporters want to cover the story, but they want to be safe, too."