Palo Alto began 2011 in the midst of a crime wave that included violent street holdups and property crimes. Police held a community meeting Jan. 19, and Chief Dennis Burns announced that smashing the robbery trend that had begun in September 2010 was the department's highest priority.
More patrols, including plain-clothes officers, were added to the streets. City Manager James Keene posted a $10,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the crimes.
At least 10 people were arrested for the street robberies, some of whom committed more than one, police said. The perpetrators lived in a number of cities, including Menlo Park, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, San Jose and East Palo Alto, police said.
Villivuni Fono, 21, of East Palo Alto was arrested Jan. 5 for two of the gun-related robberies on Fulton Street near University Avenue and on Forest Avenue near Cowper Street. His girlfriend, Ana Loiloi Umufuke, 24, and a 16-year-old male juvenile had been previously arrested for the crimes.
Fono pleaded guilty to two felonies on May 20 and received five years in state prison. Umufuke received 45 days in county jail for one count of robbery.
Dean Allen Holmes Jr., 23, of San Jose, was arrested on Jan. 19 for robbing a pizza-delivery man and a woman in separate incidents. Holmes allegedly snatched the woman's purse as she approached her home in December 2010. He also allegedly robbed the pizza man at gunpoint on Ben Lomond Drive as he returned to his delivery van.
Shamika Westmoreland, 28, and her father, Rickey Westmoreland, 58, of Sunnyvale were arrested March 2 for felony possession of stolen property after they were caught using the female victim's credit card to buy a Sony PlayStation game console.
Additional street robberies took place sporadically in the latter half of the year, with the total rising to 21 since September 2010.
Three men robbed a McDonald's employee of a large cash deposit outside the Wells Fargo Bank at California Avenue and El Camino Real on Aug. 3. Police quickly apprehended three men, Ismael Aquino-Flores, 20, Fabian Delgadillo, 21, and Gerardo Yepez-Soto, 21, of Redwood City.
On Oct. 20 a woman was robbed of her purse at gunpoint on Ramona Street downtown while walking home. Police soon identified Emanuel Abazan, 18, of Redwood City, as a suspect.
As the year closed, police sought a man who attempted two robberies and a burglary Dec. 10 in the north end of the city. The man, riding a bicycle, threatened a woman and demanded money on Waverley Street and attempted to grab a teen's iPod on Tasso Street. Unsuccessful both times, he then stole a bicycle from a garage on Walter Hays Drive.
Burglars targeted both commercial and public establishments this year.
Police sought a suspect in a string of commercial burglaries that have occurred since 2009. A person who is thought to be involved in more than 10 burglaries at small businesses, restaurants and salons from Beverly Hills to San Mateo also broke into several downtown and California Avenue businesses. Police released surveillance footage of the burglar, which was recorded during one break-in.
Thieves stole cash and a computer from Ernie's Wines and Liquors on El Camino Real on Aug. 31. And a burglar or burglars in early November left behind fingerprints after taking nearly $5,000 in cash from small downtown retailers in two separate incidents, police said.
Four schools were targeted for laptops, cameras and other digital equipment during the summer. Jordan Middle School, Palo Alto and Gunn high schools and Duveneck Elementary School were among those struck. Burglars broke into Duveneck three times in four weeks, according to police.
Two 18-year-olds, Alfredo Gonzalez and Nayely Castillo of East Palo Alto, were arrested for the Gunn break-in. Police sought seven others in connection with the July 25 burglary at Duveneck. Jaime Maldonado, 20, of Menlo Park, was arrested for the thefts. Six suspects from Menlo Park, Redwood City and Hayward were allegedly involved in the purchase of the stolen laptops, police announced on Dec. 1.
On Feb. 10, nearly 15 months after Jennifer Schipsi's charred body was found in a burned Addison Avenue cottage, a jury convicted Schipsi's boyfriend, Bulos "Paul" Zumot, of strangling the 29-year-old real estate agent and setting their house on fire to cover up his crime.
The murder trial, which pitted Deputy District Attorney Charles Gillingham against celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, featured extensive cell-phone records, tearful testimony from Zumot and a transcript showing a heated exchange between Schipsi and Zumot on the morning of her death.
Zumot's tears and alibi ultimately proved unconvincing to the jury, which found the former hookah-shop owner guilty of first-degree murder and arson. He did not go out quietly. In October, as Zumot was receiving a sentence of 33 years to life, he accused the judge, the prosecutor and Palo Alto police of corruption and had to be removed from the courtroom.
Zumot filed an appeal of his conviction in November in California's Sixth Appellate District Court.
Another murderer, Otto Emil Koloto, tried to get his conviction overturned, but the 6th Appellate District Court denied his appeal on Nov. 22. Koloto had been convicted in March 2010 of first-degree murder in the 2008 shooting of 27-year-old Philip Lacy during a robbery outside Palo Alto City Hall.
Koloto was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He appealed on grounds that jurors were erroneously instructed. The trial court also should have discharged a juror for having a conversation with a prosecution witness during a trial recess, he argued in court papers.
In East Palo Alto, the year started out promising for residents, who by June had seen a significant drop in violent crime that was part of a several-year trend, according to police.
Murders were down 75 percent, shootings were down 65 percent, and overall crime was down 10 percent from 2010.
But the community faced two devastating tragedies: 3-month-old infant Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia was shot to death on June 5, and 6-year-old Sioreli Torres Zamora, was struck and killed by a teacher's car while in a crosswalk on her way to school on Sept. 28.
Fabian Zaragoza, 17, of East Palo Alto, was arrested and faces murder and attempted-murder charges for killing Izack and shooting the boy's parents, who survived a barrage of bullets fired into their vehicle as they prepared to leave a party. Police said the shootings were a case of mistaken identity. Izack's 3-year-old brother was in the car but not injured.
In response to Izack's death, East Palo Alto police on June 17 announced a full attack against the Norteno and Sureno gangs. The department formed a coalition of county, state and federal law-enforcement agencies.
Sioreli's death prompted changes to the Bay Road and Gloria Way intersection where she was struck. The East Palo Alto City Council on Nov. 29 voted to add flashing LED signs and pavement markings. Sioreli was the second traffic fatality in less than three hours within a two-block area that day. Danny Lee Dixon, 50, was killed the same morning when a wrong-way driver who was fleeing from police struck Dixon's motorcycle head-on. Eric Banford, 46, of East Palo Alto, faces second-degree murder and other charges for Dixon's death.
East Palo Alto's murder rate rose to eight as of Dec. 14. Police blamed the majority of the killings on a trio of individuals who caused a homicide spike during the summer. At one point, there were five murders in two months. That pushed homicides up by 75 percent by Dec. 9.
The city went through periods of relative calm punctuated by clusters of shootings. Overall crime decreased by 4 percent by Dec. 9.
In a letter to the community, police Chief Ronald Davis expressed his disappointment, saying 2011 had been "a challenging year." But he pointed to the progress the city has made overall.
In 2005, there were 15 murders and 122 shootings -- a substantial difference compared to 7 murders and 31 shootings this year (as of Dec. 9), he said.
Shootings were down 15 percent; assaults were down 21 percent, and auto thefts dropped 33 percent, according to a police report. But robberies, burglaries and larcenies increased, in keeping with a trend seen in other local cities.
Davis said he expected further crime reductions in 2012, due in part to the city's efforts in the past year to develop a strategic expenditure plan for Measure C, a public-safety parcel tax.