Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 27, 2008

Residential burglaries on the rise

Home, auto crimes jumping, police say

by Sue Dremann

The number of residential burglaries in Palo Alto is rising, a trend that police first noticed in early January, spokeswoman Sgt. Sandra Brown said Friday.

Auto-related crimes are also increasing, according to department statistics.

Palo Alto experienced a near doubling of residential burglaries in January, from 14 in November to 25 last month. In the first 24 days of February there were 22, according to police reports. On Feb. 21, at least six homes were burglarized.

Other burglary attempts have also been reported.

"We're looking at some of the same problems of two summers ago," Brown said, referring to a spike in crime.

Officers have made no arrests yet, but on Friday they were instructed to step up patrols in neighborhoods, stopping people who look suspicious, Brown said.

She surmised the double-digit spike in January and continued upward trend have been due in part to the rains — officers are less visible when dealing with flood control, accidents, downed power lines and falling trees.

But that doesn't explain all of the increase. Residents' lackadaisical approach to simple home-safety precautions has returned, according to Brown. In some of the recent burglaries, crooks entered through unlocked back doors, she said.

"People are rushing out in the bad weather and not locking up their homes," she said.

The recent spate of burglaries occurred all over the city, with hot spots in Midtown, Crescent Park, along the creek in Downtown North and in Old Palo Alto.

Break-ins also occurred this month in Duveneck/St. Francis, Barron Park, Ventura and Old Palo Alto neighborhoods.

They seem to share a close connection with U.S. Highway 101, Brown said.

"If you look at where most of the burglaries are occurring, they are all quick-transit areas — easy in and easy out," Brown said.

The Midtown break-ins happened mainly east of Middlefield Road, according to police maps.

Midtown Residents Association leader Annette Ashton said she has been e-mailing residents to warn them.

"Perhaps this is a good time to start thinking about block-preparedness coordination," she said — a program Ashton is advocating along with other members of Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN).

Ashton and others are working to enroll a coordinator for each of the city's 2,500 blocks. Coordinators must agree to go through a training session, meet their neighbors and keep track of more vulnerable residents, she said.

Once in operation, the program will fight crime as well as ensure the community responds efficiently to an earthquake or flood, Ashton said.

Other crimes are also on the rise.

Auto burglaries have reached 22 so far this month — more than for all of December or January and equal to all of November, according to police maps. Clusters have occurred in Duveneck/St. Francis and throughout a corridor of neighborhoods in the northern part of the city, stretching from Crescent Park and Professorville to downtown, but incidents have happened throughout Palo Alto.

Fifteen vehicles have been stolen in the last 30 days, according to the city's new crime-mapping system, through CrimeReports.com.

Barron Park resident Bob Moss said CrimeReports.com has brought the old Neighborhood Watch program onto the Internet. The vigilance instilled by Neighborhood Watch back in the 1990s was effective against neighborhood crime, he recalled.

"Barron Park Association used to meet with the police monthly in the early 1990s, and the police would bring in all the crime reports in the area. At one time there were five car break-ins in a couple of weeks. We went online and warned everybody to lock their cars and remove valuables. As a result, it dropped to only one break-in over a month," he said.

Brown agreed.

"We need to go back to the basics. We need prevention," she said. "We need people to be watching for suspicious activity. If it doesn't fit, it probably doesn't."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com. Additional reporting by Staff Writer Becky Trout.

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