Palo Alto has experienced 71 residential burglaries since January, the largest spike since 2007, the Palo Alto Police Department told more than 120 residents Wednesday night, March 28.
The department called the community meeting at Walter Hays Elementary School's multipurpose room to raise awareness regarding the crime surge and to ask the community for help by being the police department's "eyes and ears."
"We're not going to solve this without your help," Chief Dennis Burns said.
The meeting kicked off the department's "Lock It or Lose It" campaign, which focuses on a combined strategy of public awareness and participation and increased patrols.
Burns said the department is committed to quashing the burglaries, most of which have occurred during the daylight hours.
Police did not specifically identify the reasons behind the surge, but Watch Commander Lt. Zach Perron said such spikes are cyclical and often come when convicted burglars are released from prison after serving time for prior offenses.
Palo Alto had a total of 149 residential burglaries in 2011 and 110 for all of 2010. Perron said there have been 71 burglaries in just the first three months of this year. By comparison, the city had 31 burglaries in the first three months of 2011, 22 in 2010, 35 in 2008 and 72 in 2007, Lt. Dave Flohr said.
Other cities are also experiencing a similar trend, Flohr said. Residential burglaries have risen 70 percent in Menlo Park, 48 percent in Redwood City and 17 percent in Mountain View, Flohr said.
Police have made 14 arrests and closed nine Palo Alto cases, he said. Perron said while that might not seem like many arrests, people should keep in mind that any one burglar does not commit only one crime.
The department has six to eight officers on patrol at any one time. To beef up security, two daytime officers from downtown are patrolling neighborhoods and additional personnel, including detectives, are also being deployed to neighborhood detail, he said. But the real thrust in fighting the crime wave will come from creating "a force multiplier," Perron said.
Palo Alto has 80 to 100 municipal trucks on the streets -- water, gas and utilities vehicles -- and the department has briefed 70 employees about how to identify suspicious behavior. The department is engaging private delivery companies, such as FedEx and UPS, mail carriers, garbage-and-waste-management workers and meter readers, teaching them to identify unusual behavior, Perron said.
But residents are at the heart of "Lock It or Lose It," he said, and Perron encouraged people to look at their own behaviors to help stop the crimes. In 2011, burglars used force to enter homes 36 percent of the time, but in another 36 percent they gained entry through an unlocked window or door. In another 28 percent of burglaries, the mode of entry could not be identified, but it is assumed burglars entered through an unsecured window or door.
That means "64 percent of the time the bad guys were getting in because homes were unsecured," he said.
Perron urged people to lock doors and windows -- and side gates, since the burglars are often going into back yards where they are hidden from view and are free to get in through a window or door.
If residents get a tingle sense that something is wrong, they should call 911 or the general dispatch number, 650-326-2413. "Too often people rationalize," he said.
If someone is looking over fences or trying vehicle door handles, one shouldn't just think the person is lost.
"People aren't suspicious, behaviors are suspicious," he said, adding that just because someone is wearing an orange vest and looks like a utility worker, it doesn't mean an assumption should be made.
"You've got to drill down into their behavior," he said. "Trust the hairs on the back of your neck."
Palo Alto Police Department is also launching a comprehensive social media campaign on Facebook, Twitter (@PaloAltoPolice), Nixle, and rBlock.
The Facebook page went live Wednesday afternoon. The department will post news releases, crime prevention tips, human interest stories, crime statistics, photos, videos, and more on these outlets in another effort to reach different segments of the community, Perron said.
"We encourage people who may not be up to speed on social media to have their children or grandchildren sign up on their behalf and let them know of any important news," he said.