A troubling increase in residential burglaries has Palo Alto police launching a new public-information campaign, "Lock It or Lose It!," the department announced Monday, March 19.
A yearly statistical comparison of residential burglaries reveals a steady increase from 2010 to 2011, and a troubling spike thus far in 2012, according to the department. There were 110 reported cases in 2010 and 149 reported cases in 2011.
"Through March 12 of this year, a remarkable 53 residential burglaries have already been reported," police stated in a press release.
An analysis of the 2011 residential burglaries shows that in 36 percent of the cases, the point of entry was through open or unlocked doors or windows. In another 36 percent, burglars used some sort of force (bodily force, a cutting tool, a pry tool, or a window smash) to gain entry. In the remaining 28 percent of cases, the point of entry could not be determined, but it is likely that doors or windows were left unsecured, police said.
"It is these numbers that are driving the main message behind the Lock It or Lose It! campaign: if your property is left unlocked, it's more likely to be stolen," police said.
The campaign will focus on how best to prevent burglaries, how to recognize suspicious behavior, and how to report that suspicious behavior to the police. As recent cases have shown, a partnership between alert residents and the police is one of the most effective ways to combat the burglary problem, the department said. Several persons, some with burglary tools, have been arrested after residents reported suspicious behavior.
A burglary is committed when a suspect enters a residence or a locked vehicle with the intent to commit theft or any felony. Burglary is a felony crime, and those convicted can be sent to state prison. Burglars are typically interested in avoiding confrontations and witnesses, so residential burglaries tend to occur during the day while homes are unoccupied, and auto burglaries tend to occur overnight while people sleep, police said.
"Residents who take the time to always lock the doors and windows to their homes when they are out are less likely to be victimized. Burglars want to get into homes as easily and as quickly as possible, so leaving doors or windows unlocked makes their job simple.
"Residents are also encouraged to lock side yard gates. In many cases, burglars gain access to the rear yard after finding an unlocked gate. Once in the privacy of a back yard, they are free to break into the home unnoticed by passersby. This is often done after they ring the doorbell, posing as a solicitor or supposedly looking for someone who does not live there, to see if anyone is home. Residents are encouraged to speak through their doors to ask who is calling, or otherwise acknowledge in some manner that someone is home," police said.
The police department has made burglary prevention and burglar apprehension its top priorities, police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron has said. Patrol officers are focusing their time in the neighborhoods when not otherwise assigned to calls for service, and two day-shift officers are being reassigned to work with burglary detectives. They have been dedicated specifically to burglary suppression, he said.
Other resources, including plainclothes personnel, will also be reassigned to stop the burglaries, as staffing permits.
The Palo Alto Police Department's website has a section on home security, recognizing suspicious behavior and being a good witness. It can be accessed at www.cityofpaloalto.org/depts/pol/crime_prevention.asp.
Residents are encouraged to call 9-1-1 to report suspicious behavior, and allow the police to investigate if that behavior is innocent or criminal.
"It is always better to call and let the police do their job, rather than rationalize suspicious behavior and not call," Perron said.
Anyone having information about the current burglary trend can contact the 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984.