Residential burglaries hit five-year high
Thefts from Palo Alto homes are up 56 percent over 2011, according to police
Home burglaries in Palo Alto have jumped by 56 percent in 2012, prompting alarmed residents in one neighborhood to start organizing a surveillance program.
The police-department analysis, which was released to concerned residents on Tuesday, Sept. 11, identified 151 burglaries from Jan. 1 through Sept. 10 this year, compared to 97 for the same time period in 2011.
This year's numbers are the highest in five years. The trend nearly reverses declines in burglary since 2008, when there were 130 incidents from January to September, and in 2009, when 102 burglaries took place. The lowest number was 85 in 2010, according to the report.
The high 2012 figures were due in part to a spike during the first three months of the year. In January there were 21 residential burglaries, with 22 in February and 32 in March, according to police.
The department started a vigorous anti-burglary program on March 28, dubbed "Lock It or Lose It!" The program includes a public-education campaign urging residents to lock their homes and vehicles, increased police patrols and basic training for city workers and others who work outside on identifying and reporting suspicious behavior.
In April only seven burglaries were reported. The numbers stayed down for May through July, with between 10 and 14 for each of those months. But in August, the number of burglaries rose to 26. So far in September five have occurred. Three took place this past weekend, according to police.
Most of the burglaries in August and September took place in the northern and southernmost parts of the city. (A map of the August and September home burglaries is posted at www.PaloAltoOnline.com/pivot/?Map12.)
Capt. Ron Watson said more homes are empty during the day as children have returned to school. In response, police have almost doubled the personnel on neighborhood streets during the daytime, shifting patrol schedules and assignments and bringing administrative officers into the field. Detectives are also spending time in unmarked cars and plainclothes.
To aid police, residents of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood in north Palo Alto are discussing a surveillance program. Carla Carvalho, who lives on Edgewood Drive where one of the weekend break-ins occurred, is starting a buddy system. She hopes neighbors would park their cars in the driveways of people who are on vacation and specifically look out for each other while walking or driving past a neighbor's home.
"To be in constant fear in my house is not something I'm going to tolerate," she said.
Carvalho is writing a letter on behalf of neighbors to the police department to request guidance and a neighborhood meeting. Most neighbors have responded positively to joining the effort, but a few people have lower expectations, she said.
"Some people say, 'We can't do anything. It's always been like this.' I'd like to change that perception. I don't want people in Palo Alto, Calif., to feel they can't solve problems in their own neighborhoods," she said.
Residents say that one of their greatest concerns about the burglaries is what they perceive as a new trend: more forced entries. But Watson said the methods of entry have remained pretty much the same — unlocked doors and windows, a few smashed windows and the occasional pried opening.
Palo Alto police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron agreed.
"The burglars are not changing their methods. Since this trend began earlier this year, the burglars have always been forcing their way into some homes that are properly secured," he said.
It's more likely, however, that thieves are entering homes with unlocked windows and doors. Seventeen of the 31 cases from August through Sept. 10 involved the burglars getting into a home that way. In four of the 31 cases, burglars smashed windows. In one case, the burglar broke in a side door.
The point of entry couldn't be determined in the remainder of the cases. Police said a door was likely unlocked or open, or a home might have been under construction.
But the forcible break-ins have made residents jittery. Both incidents this past weekend occurred in Duveneck/St. Francis during daytime hours.
Karen White, president of the Duveneck/St. Francis Neighborhood Association, said the incidents have renewed discussions about video cameras at the entrance to the neighborhood.
"All of a sudden the fear level escalates quite markedly. Some neighbors are afraid to be in their homes and are afraid to leave their homes," she said.
White said her family's cars have been burglarized in the driveway, but she is less concerned about auto burglary.
"A home break-in is a whole different level of crime," she said, adding that a home near hers was burglarized.
Perron said the department continues to remind residents to report suspicious behavior immediately by calling 9-1-1.
"That is how we're going to have the best chance of catching burglars — by having an observant resident see something suspicious, then pick up the phone and call us so we can investigate.
Perron emphasized that the burglary trend is not confined to Palo Alto.
"Our detectives are working hand-in-hand with our crime analyst and are in contact with investigators from other cities to address this regional trend. ... It's continuing to occur up and down the Peninsula," he said.
Residents seeking more information on coordinating their neighborhoods against crime can take a free class through the city, said Kenneth Dueker, director of the Office of Emergency Services.
Crime Watch and Personal Preparedness will take place Nov. 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. More information and registration is available by contacting Annette Glanckopf at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information and tips on preventing burglaries are available at www.cityofpaloalto.org/StopCrime. Residents can also follow the department's activities and obtain updates about crime news, trends and arrests on Twitter (@PaloAltoPolice), Facebook (www.facebook.com/PaloAltoPolice) and Nixle (www.nixle.com).
TALK ABOUT IT
How is the recent increase in residential burglaries affecting you? Share your thoughts on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at email@example.com.