Describing the crime spree as "unprecedented," Menlo Park police met with Willows residents on Wednesday, Sept. 22, to discuss a recent string of break-ins.
Ten burglaries and two attempts have occurred in September -- nine in the past week -- during the hours of 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., when most homes sit empty while residents work.
The burglars crossed yards, leaped fences, crept in through doors unlocked and locked, and even squeezed through a doggy door to snatch electronics, jewelry and money.
At the request of Councilmember Kelly Fergusson, about 60 residents sat down at Cafe Zoe on Wednesday night to talk about the break-ins with Police Chief Bryan Roberts and Sgt. Jaime Romero.
The thieves might knock on doors first to scout a home, claiming to look for a lost pet or a friend, Sgt. Jaime Romero said. He asked residents to call the police if that happens.
He also promised response times would improve, after one woman said a dispatcher told her no one could respond to her call about a possible break-in for five to 10 minutes.
Calling 911 from a landline might help, Sgt. Romero explained, because cellphone calls near U.S. 101 may be routed through California Highway Patrol dispatch first before reaching the Menlo Park police department.
Police spokesperson Nicole Acker told The Almanac the average response time for in-progress crimes is a couple minutes, if that, but it could be longer if other high-priority situations are going on at the same time.
Suspect information remains elusive. Police believe the burglars might be teenagers and young adults skipping school, so they're checking truancy reports. They don't know yet if the crimes are linked. But based on stolen check activity, investigators think some of the thieves hail from Redwood City and East Palo Alto, and are coordinating with other jurisdictions.
On Sept. 16, residents reported seeing a suspicious green sedan and a blue van with a gray stripe in the neighborhood, and police encouraged everyone to keep calling whenever something looks out of place.
Police have stepped up both regular and undercover patrols throughout the neighborhood.
Police urge people to work together to make the neighborhood safer. Individuals should also stash valuables out of sight, while making the exterior of the house less welcoming to thieves by keeping a clear line of view to the street and removing anything like bricks that could be used to smash a window. Locking doors, of course, is also a good place to start.