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Town Square

Residential burglary hits Walter Hays Drive

Original post made on Aug 13, 2012

After going out for two and a half hours, a Palo Alto family returned home around midday Sunday to discover jewelry and cash missing from their home on Walter Hays Drive, police said.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, August 13, 2012, 9:52 AM

Comments

Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2012 at 10:58 am

Property crimes like residential burglaries have always been a frequent occurrence in Palo Alto. The vast majority of these crimes take place on weekdays when the perpetrators are counting on the residents not being home. Although no one is entirely immune to being burglarized, no matter what precautions they may take, one can minimize the chances by going through some simple steps.

It may sound overly simplistic, but the simple act of making sure that we leave our doors and windows locked is very important. These criminals are going to seek the path of least resistance, and will go to great lengths in checking their intended targets to make sure they have the best chance of not being detected. It's funny that most of us secure our front doors and windows that are visible from the street, a natural thought since those tend to be the most exposed. However, the majority of entry points are side or rear doors and windows that are likely to be concealed from the street view by landscaping or fences. It's also critical to limit the access to our side and rear yards by locking the gates that lead into these areas. I learned that many of these criminals will pretend to be a utility worker or solicitor and simply walk door to door checking to see if the gates leading to the side/rear yards are unsecured. Once there, the criminal can virtually operate unseen from anyone on the sidewalk or street. Also, when away from home, even for short periods, it's not a bad idea to leave a radio on inside the house in order to give the criminal the thought that someone might be home. Again, most of these perpetrators do not want to risk a confrontation.

We can't always prevent burglaries as residents, but we can certainly lessen the chances by taking a few simple precautions.


Posted by maria, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 13, 2012 at 11:17 am

get a burglar alarm!


Posted by George, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 13, 2012 at 11:23 am

Thanks, Phil. A really good reminder.


Posted by Mr Hill, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 13, 2012 at 11:29 am

I walk my dog all the time and see suspicious people, sitting in cars, on the corner with cell phones, some cars parked on the street for a few days or more. Sure you can report it but they really don't do much about it. When you have a sense about something not right, most likely it's not. Hopefully they can patrol streets more and prevent any further crime before this really becomes a problem.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Mr. Hill, one way to deal with sketchy folks who are checking out your neighborood in their parked cars, is to limited the amount of time that they can do this. Thr Residential Parking Permit Program (RPPP) in Colege Terrace tends to serve this purpose (among many other good things).

I am fully supportive of all residential neighborhoods developing their own RPPP. It would make all residential neighborhoods safer.

Demand it!


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Mr. Hill,

It's a difficult proposition to expect the police department to be everywhere, especially in the proverbial right place at the right time. Residential burglaries take place throughout the city, and could involve multiple perpetrators. The police department is further challenged operating with 15-20% less personnel than they staffed even a decade ago. Specialized teams that targeted crimes like residential burglaries have either been reduced significantly or eliminated altogether. With the pending elimination of the traffic/motorcycle unit, there are even less eyes and ears available on our streets. All gone by way of budget cuts.

I learned in the Citizen's Academy, which has also been eliminated by budget cuts, that police staffing on any given patrol shift includes as few as one supervisor and five patrol officers. That's for the entire city. When you consider the myriad of calls for services they respond to, and the number of officers and resources it takes to deal with these situations, it's no surprise that they are left with little else to incorporate specialized patrols. Many people think that Palo Alto, due to its affluent reputation, is not a particularly busy place for the police department. Nothing could be further from the truth. From my personal experience on several ride-alongs in patrol, I was surprised at the number, severity, and fast pace of the activity.

Even with these challenges, I still think it's important to call in suspicious activity, keeping in mind that the police have to determine if the information meets the legal standard of "reasonable suspicion" for making a lawful detention. I'm not a legal expert, but I would venture to say that someone simply sitting in their car talking on a cell phone might not meet the standard to justify a detention. However, if you change that scenario slightly, and were to witness that same person driving slowly through a neighborhood where burglaries have taken place, and they're looking up driveways possibly casing the property, then the requirements could very well be met. The bottom line is that the officer detaining the person must have at least a reasonable suspicion that some criminal activity has either taken place or is about to take place. As citizens, the more facts and information we can provide, the better prepared the officers will be in making that important determination.


Posted by Put-It-On-The-We, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm

> Citizen's Academy, which has also been eliminated by budget cuts

There is no reason that the kinds of information that was presented in an outreach activity like this one could not be provided as a series of videos, on-line tutorials, and on-line quizzes. There is no reason that people need to sit in a classroom to acquire basic knowledge about local police activities, or operating procedures. All of this sort of information could be easily videoed, and made available on the police web-page, or on the City's Open Data web site.

As to ride-alongs, there is no reason that a web-cam could not be outfitted in a couple police cars, and the ride-along live-streamed to all of Palo Alto, and the world. People could ask police officers questions, as well as just watch watch goes on when police cruise the streets.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm

>It's a difficult proposition to expect the police department to be everywhere

That is true. However, traffic enforcement officers (in their carts), with the ability to write parking tickets, are quite effective in eliminating the car campers and car dwellers, some of whom are casing the various neighbornoods. We do not need police cruisers prowling our streets, lookking for bad guys, if we have street parking regulations, like we have in College Terrace.

There is no rational reason for our citizens to have to put up with these residential invasions. Establising a RPPP in each neighborhood will suppress it.

College Terrace has led the way. Follow us!


Posted by bill g, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Phil. Thanks for excellent summaries. However, while it's true that a single patrol shift may have only a sergeant supervisor and 4 or 5 officers, there are always 2 shifts on duty at one time. In addition a 3rd shift may overlap the other two for a few hours.

Having said that, at any given time there may be as few as 10 and up to 15 officers to patrol 470 lane miles of streets in Palo Alto. (See the Auditor's Service Efforts and Accomplishments for FY 2011, page 54 for this number.) This reinforces the statement above, "It's a difficult proposition to expect the police department to be everywhere, especially in the proverbial right place at the right time."

Refer to the same S E & A report, beginning on page 45, to get an overview of the coverage and services the department does provide.


Posted by Nearby homeowner, a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I sometimes write down license plate numbers as I walk by suspicious parked cars and look at the occupants. That way, if there is a break in in my neighborhood, I can give the police the #s and they can check who it was. It is kind of big brother watching, but if you are in a neighborhood legally, it really isn't a problem. Then, too, looking at car occupants may causethem to not try the area later, and try somewhere else. If the same license # was reported several times near breakins, a pattern may have been established to find the scoundrels!
If you don't have a pencil, PRETENDing to write down the number might be sufficient to cause the strangers to move on and not come back. Be careful--as some might challenge you as to why you took a license number, so, do it in presence of other walkers and, it is not a bad idea to have your local police phone number in your cell phone if you carry one. Have it ready if challenged.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Good suggestions Put-It-On, although there might be some privacy issues arising from citizens that might take exception to being streamed live regardless of what role they have in a police investigations. I agree that tutorials and crime information could be presented in video form on the department's web site.

Interesting concepts Craig. Since residential burglaries can take place in any Palo Alto neighborhood, I'm not sure if it would be practical to implement or justify permit parking citywide for the sole reason of deterring crime. As for the parking enforcement officers, keep in mind they are not trained and equipped to identify or respond to a suspicious person or suspected criminal. What they could provide is an extra set of eyes and ears to report suspicious activity, much like a civilian security guard would do. In that respect your idea has virtue.

In my opinion, short of having a gated community with private patrols, the best and most effective approach to coping with the burglary problem is to first take preventative measures like simply locking doors, windows, and side/rear yard access gates. Other measures like alarms, dogs, video cameras, etc. can all reduce the chances of becoming a burglary victim. People living in the neighborhood must be vigilant and report any suspicious activity that occurs to the police. Again, the more facts and information the police have will assist them in making an appropriate, lawful approach. Finally we must also have a properly staffed and equipped police department that has the flexibility and ability to take proactive measures toward crime problems.

We should not have to sacrifice specialized units that target crimes like burglary for the sake of budget cuts. Public safety has to be at the top of the priority list. Without that sense of safety and peace of mind, it makes it difficult to enjoy and appreciate the many attributes that our community has to offer.


Posted by Duveneck resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Another use for your iPhone or point-n-shoot camera. Carry it. Use it to take fotos of suspicious cars, people, etc. In addition to having info on suspects in advance of possible break-ins, if they see you taking fotos, it could deter them from coming into the neighborhood.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm

True Bill G, with the exception of the early morning hours, between 1:00 and 6:00 A.M. where the minimum staffing levels drop to one supervisor and five officers. Minimum staffing at any given time is one sergeant and six officers I believe, and it's my understanding that due to budget cuts the patrol division operates at or near minimum much of the time.

From my ride-along experience, the activity during those early morning hours is quite challenging and it's difficult to keep officers available on patrol. For example, something as common place as a drunk driver arrest would require and occupy the time of two officers anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours. That almost cuts the available personnel resources in half. It sounds like we're in agreement on the issue of police coverage even under ideal staffing circumstances. They're having to do more with less, and shouldn't have to.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm

> Since residential burglaries can take place in any Palo Alto neighborhood, I'm not sure if it would be practical to implement or justify permit parking citywide for the sole reason of deterring crime. As for the parking enforcement officers, keep in mind they are not trained and equipped to identify or respond to a suspicious person or suspected criminal. What they could provide is an extra set of eyes and ears to report suspicious activity, much like a civilian security guard would do. In that respect your idea has virtue.

Phil, the parking enforcement officers are not meant to be a set of eyes, even if they do that as a side issue. Their puprose is to limit the parking hours on residential streets.

We do not need to waste precious police officer time on things that can be suppressed by other means, like RPPP.

I have lived in College Terrace for over 35 years, and I have seen most of these issues, described in this thread (and worse). The RPPP in College Terrace has suppressed the possibility of more of them. I highly recommend that neighborhoods develop their own RPPP. Palo Alto neighborhoods will be safer, if they do.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm

I see your point Craig, and I agree it would likely make a positive impact, however I'm not certain that implementing citywide permit parking in residential areas is practical. With that theory, I'd be curious to see how the burglary rate in residential permit parking zones compares to that of neighborhoods without restrictions.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm

> With that theory, I'd be curious to see how the burglary rate in residential permit parking zones compares to that of neighborhoods without restrictions

Phil, since College Terrace (CT)is the only RPPP, thus far, in Palo Alto, I don't have any significant data for you, although it could be possible in a couplde of years, assuming that crime stats are broken down by neighborhoods. All I have is my own experience in CT. We used to have a lot of issues, including car camping, used car parking lots, casing of our neighborhood, major crimes (e.g. CT rapist, and much more). CT is not crime free, but it is safer now than ever I remember it. The RPPP prevents long term parking, and this discourages the sketchy types, some of whom used to park in front of my house for weeks at a time...no more!


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm

With school starting this week, I would think this will help our community as there will be more people out walking, riding bikes, driving, riding in school busses - just a higher level of activity. I suspect burglars know that Palo Altans can afford vacations - there IS a chance people are really away when they see a quiet house - remember to have a neighbor watch your house, get your mail and newspapers, etc. when you are gone, and vice versa. We haven't had any issues but have acted proactively - and also always locked our house when we leave. I can't believe that some people leave their residences unlocked when they go out and leave first floor windows open - yet this is done by some. Prevention is the best cure.


Posted by tron bat, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm

watch out if you photo people though, someimes you are mistaken and could set you up for criminal charges stalking harassment. white people use cell phones to trtack minorities who are just going to business meeting and the like.


Posted by Mr Hill, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 27, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Hi Phil and all others, great points but something isn't working or this wouldn't be a problem.
If a person is sitting in their car for a period of time, looks out of place, a touch edgy..well he's not out collecting for the Red Cross..right? Folks, let be a little more aware here. Also I believe than many of these crimes are committed by workers or constructions workers in the area, they see the comings and goings of residents and if they either tell their friends or do the crimes themselves. The bottom line is enforcement. The city can "step up" and adjust the budget to allow this instead if spending it on a useless employee position or wasted expenses. If we don't stop this now it will get worse.