Burglary wave topped Palo Alto crime news
Residents, police joined forces to stanch thefts in 2012
Crime was No. 1 on the list of Palo Alto neighborhood concerns in 2012, with residential burglaries taking center stage. Home burglaries jumped by 56 percent in 2012, police said in September.
Thieves focused on personal electronics, cash and jewelry amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to police. In one high-profile case, Kariem McFarlin, a burglar who entered the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' home, made off with Tiffany necklaces, two Apple computers, an iPad, other electronic equipment and Jobs' wallet. He used a hidden key to gain entry.
Residents and police mobilized to contain the crime wave, launching neighborhood-watch campaigns and trading information on the latest surveillance cameras and spotlights.
On March 28, the Palo Alto Police Department started an anti-burglary program dubbed "Lock It or Lose It!" The program beefed up patrols, trained city utilities workers to detect suspicious behavior and provided tips to residents on reporting crimes and boosting home security.
"We're not going to solve this without your help," police Chief Dennis Burns told a packed room of concerned community members.
The burglaries slowed in April, but by June they were on the rise again. One continuing vulnerability: people leaving their doors and windows unlocked or open. Police pressed the message of prevention through social media, which included stepped-up communication via Facebook, Twitter and the Internet alert services Nixle and rBlock.
Many Palo Alto neighborhoods organized in ways they had not since the rise of Neighborhood Watch programs in the 1980s. Residents joined neighborhood networking sites including rBlock and sent out alerts on residential email lists when suspicious activity or a break-in occurred.
Crescent Park and Duveneck/St. Francis residents organized meetings with police and installed cameras and motion-sensor lights at their homes. Some discussed ways to mount surveillance cameras to cover activities on the street.
One home surveillance system documented thieves pilfering UPS parcels from a Crescent Park front porch within 30 seconds of delivery in September. The resident shared the video with neighbors and police.
"If they know we have eyes on them, they will move on," the resident said.
Neighborhood vigilance and police work have paid off. Police had arrested 38 people for burglary as of Dec. 20, department spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said. Dozens of others were taken into custody for possession of burglary tools and prowling. Some of the arrests were made after residents called in suspicious activity.
Two separate burglary investigations led to spectacular arrests: In March, Palo Alto police investigating stolen iPads helped bust a $34 million methamphetamine operation in San Jose — the largest seizure of the drug in U.S. history. Seven people face charges in that case.
Two East Palo Alto women, Ana Lauese, 35, and Malinda Ladson, 33, were arrested by Los Altos police Oct. 29 and have been connected to 15 residential burglaries across three counties, including several in Palo Alto, according to police. Officers discovered thousands of pieces of jewelry that filled dozens of backpacks at the women's home.
By comparison, residential armed robberies — 2011's top crime concern — were down in 2012, but not out.
In February, a man walking his dog was robbed at gunpoint on Walter Hays Drive. The violent crime upped fear among residents and brought concerns that the prior year's trend might continue. But the hold-ups did not come close to the 2011 wave, when at least 10 people were arrested for the street robberies.
"This is a personal crime. This feels quite a bit more frightening," said Karen White, president of the Duveneck/St. Francis Neighborhood Association after the Feb. 14 armed robbery. She said it was time for the city to install surveillance cameras at the neighborhood's entrances.
Other street crimes included a man who threatened a gardener with a knife in October and stole her leaf blower in the 900 block of Channing Avenue.
And a hooded man allegedly groped women on residential streets starting in August and is connected with a similar assault at Stanford Shopping Center. He is still at large.
On Dec. 19, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office with Palo Alto police released a video to alert residents to another crime epidemic that has resulted in part from the thefts of so many personal computers, laptops and phones: identity theft. The crime wave has been dubbed iCrime.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.