A burglary team consisting of a child and two adults is active in Palo Alto. They have attempted three residential burglaries in the past month, police officials reported Wednesday evening at an open-air "Meet the Chief" community meeting in Juana Briones Park in south Palo Alto.
Police Capt. Bob Beacom announced the existence of the mixed team, which resembles a family operation, although there is no reported evidence of that.
"Cat burglaries are the most dangerous," Lt. Scott Wong warned of burglaries in general. "The vast majority occur because the doors and windows are unlocked." A cat burglar enters a house with people in it, usually sleeping -- dangerous because of the possibility of a confrontation with the occupants.
Wong urged residents to "get to know your neighbors and secure your property" to help prevent future burglaries.
He said some would-be thieves pretend to be solicitors. Citizens who become suspicious of a solicitor can call the department's anonymous tip line at 650-329-2190, or text or e-mail a description of the solicitor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who relay information anonymously are assigned a number to maintain confidentiality.
Police Chief Dennis Burns, who also serves as interim fire chief , lead the 6:30 to 8 p.m. meeting. Burns is filling in for retired Fire Chief Nick Marinaro until an executive search team and City Council selects a new fire chief.
Other members of the police and fire departments joined Beacom and Burns. Each gave a report to the audience, many of whom attend the meetings each month.
Commercial burglaries have by risen 15 percent this calendar year over last, Beacom reported. He said the majority occurred overnight along East Bayshore Road, an easily accessible location. There have been 13 storage-locker burglaries along El Camino Real, he said.
On the fire side, arson is a concern as the summer progresses, Beacom said. Last summer, several suspected arsonists were identified and arrested.
Now more could be at work, he said, citing five suspicious fires since April 15, one at Herbert Hoover Elementary School. He said fires are being set between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. and asked citizens to watch for suspicious activity.
A woman in the audience brought up the organization, California Open Carry, whose members wear unloaded guns as a form of civil protest.
"It horrifies me," she said.
"It's the Second Amendment," a man in the back retorted.
"Do not assume an unconcealed weapon is open carry," Wong cautioned.
Lisa Scheff, manager of records for the Police Department, said Palo Alto's Community Alert Network System (CANS) will merge with Santa Clara County's similar system on Aug. 11. She said it will be "a seamless transition for residents" that will allow users more access to information.
Previously, Palo Alto only used CANS "in life-and-death situations," Wong added, referring to past cases of abduction and murder.
Beacom, in response to audience concerns about identity theft, said there are about 300 legitimate fraud cases every year. He said a Palo Alto resident is more likely to be a victim of identity theft than any other crime.
There are two detectives assigned to fraud, he said.
Staff cuts have hurt, Burns said. He reported that the budget forced the Police Department to cut five positions this year. Due to similar losses, Scheff said her Records Department will only be open Mondays through Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.