Palo Alto police hone in on robberies, auto burglaries

In wake of recent wave of crimes, police discuss prevention and awareness at community meeting Tuesday night

The Jan. 23 home-invasion robbery of an elderly Palo Alto couple was the flashpoint for a public meeting that focused on crime prevention and awareness at City Hall Tuesday night, police said.

The gun-point robbery, which alarmed residents and law enforcement, is possibly linked to similar crimes around the Bay Area from Marin to Alameda and Contra Costa counties, Lt. Zach Perron said. Detectives are collaborating with other law-enforcement agencies to identify any possible suspects and connections.

But the take-home message for residents last night is to do everything they can to protect themselves, and that includes keeping valuables out of vehicles, carrying few credit cards or displaying small electronics openly and being aware of their surroundings, police said.

Police also touched on one controversial but looming possibility to further combat crime: positioning surveillance cameras at strategic points throughout the city. But Perron said that the department must weigh seriously any policy that might infringe on privacy.

This idea is not new for Palo Alto, and the use of such systems is growing. Many residents in more burglary-prone neighborhoods have asked the department to add cameras at neighborhood entrance and exit points. The City of Oakland is planning to activate in July a $10.9 million city-wide surveillance system, dubbed the Domain Awareness Center, which uses ShotSpotter gunshot detection to activate live feeds from security cameras and license plate readers. The system is opposed by civil liberties groups.

The time may be coming for such a strategy in Palo Alto, Perron said.

"We're trending to have police department surveillance in the future," he said.

Though home-invasion robberies are rare in Palo Alto -- the last one occurred in 2010 -- robberies (where someone takes property by force or under threat) are up 15 percent. In 2012, there were 26 such crimes. In 2013, the number rose to 30, he said. The most recent were two purse snatchings by a man on a bicycle on Jan. 29.

In recent months, police have fought the crime wave with some arrests. In one incident last October, officers arrested a 17-year-old girl who allegedly punched a woman from behind and stole her purse. On Oct. 29, police arrested two 16-year-olds in connection with a violent robbery by three individuals in which a man was knocked to the ground, punched and kicked and threatened with a knife.

But despite the shocking nature of those crimes, few acts of violence occur in the city. The majority are property crimes, Perron said.

Police presented some good news at the meeting: Residential burglaries dropped 42 percent between 2012 and 2013, in large part because police made many arrests, said Cindy Hendrickson, outgoing Santa Clara County supervising deputy district attorney. And police made a significant dent in solving car burglaries with the arrest of Vernon Rayshaun Evans-Carmichael on Jan. 16. Evans-Carmichael, a San Francisco resident, is charged with 27 felonies associated with a string of auto burglaries dating back to June 2013.

"It's just good, old-fashioned police work," she said of the arrest.

But the wave of auto burglaries slammed the city hard starting about four to five months ago, particularly during the holiday season, Reifschneider said. Auto burglaries are up 70 percent over last year, and stolen vehicles are up 44 percent.

The targets are often rental cars in which visitors leave luggage and laptops in open view. Thieves hone in on restaurant parking lots and shopping malls, such as Stanford and Town and Country shopping centers, where they know people are likely to be away from their vehicles for a period of time.

Palo Alto is a prime area for such crimes because it has many visitors and business people, Reifschneider said.

Police said they have increased plainclothes officers, foot, bicycle and vehicle patrols throughout the city.

"Every crime in this city is a personal affront to us," Perron said.

But residents can do their part by remaining vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity. Tips for protecting home and person can be found on the police websites at and

A complete list of crime statistics can be found on the City of Palo Alto website.


Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 5, 2014 at 10:49 am

At the risk of sounding like a cranky grammarian, the headline should read, "Palo Alto Police HOME in on...".

Hone means to sharpen. Home in means to get closer to a target.

I love the Weekly, but still...

Like this comment
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Feb 5, 2014 at 11:11 am

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Hi Eric. I'm the editor of the Palo Alto Weekly. One issue we deal with as writers and editors is the evolution of language. Recently, the usage of the phrase "hone in" to indicate the placement of focus or attention has been added to the traditional definition of the phrase.

While cranky grammarians ;-) and others may wish to use "home in" rather than "hone in" in this article's context, I believe "hone in" is both acceptable and appropriate.

See the definitions below:

From the American Heritage Dictionary
Web Link

To focus the attention or make progress achieving an objective: The lawyer honed in on the gist of the plaintiff's testimony.

From Merriam-Webster
Web Link

To move toward or focus attention on an objective [looking back for the ball honing in — George Plimpton] [a missile honing in on its target — Bob Greene] [hones in on the plights and victories of the common man — Lisa Russell]

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

I've never read "Home in on". Definitely, "hone in on" is correct, but better to use the word "focused".

Like this comment
Posted by Honeless
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 5, 2014 at 11:48 am

Hone is where the pedantic's heart is.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 5, 2014 at 11:54 am

If I ever face an armed robber, I will attempt to thwart him by engaging in a discussion of his grammar.

Like this comment
Posted by HowardBeale
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm

We have crime in Palo Alto and you all are quibbling over grammar?!!

I live three blocks from the home invasion. 1 block from an attempted sexual assault. Two blocks from two different muggings. I don't walk around at night.

I'm all in favor of surveillance. Whatever it takes.

Like this comment
Posted by Sherlock Holmes
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Instead of $10.9 million city-wide for surveillance system, hire Investigators. Hre me Sherlock Holmes and My partner Mr. John Watson and let us do our job.

"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes."
-The Hound of the Baskervilles. Chapter 3: "The Problem"

There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.'
A Study in Scarlet.

Like this comment
Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm


From the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary:

Though it seems to have established itself in American English (and mention in a British usage book suggests it is used in British English too), your use of it especially in writing is likely to be called a mistake. Home in or in figurative use zero in does nicely.

First attested: 1965. In other words, this usage started as a sound alike diction error, and has gradually become more common.

Just between you and I, maybe we should pour over the dictionary a bit more, so that all these errors don't become more widespread. Its a sad day when newspapers not only make these errors, but encourage them.

I know, I know. As Colbert says, no letters please, irregardless of your feelings.

Crime is a serious business. But I'd rather be part of neighborhood watch than chastise people for being concerned about diction errors. I assume that's where most of you are when you're not posting your views on grammar and usage.

Like this comment
Posted by Jonathan A.
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Ironic that in the above comment we have "pour over the dictionary" instead of the correct "pore over the dictionary." What exactly should we pour on it -- water, or perhaps maple syrup?

I agree with the original posting by Eric, however: "Hone in on" is jarring and it remains incorrect, even if the error is becoming that much more common. These sound-alike errors are rife and will continue to spread as publishers now almost universally seem to feel they can do without experienced copy editors. (Yes, that's the hand of the "free market," but I've never understood it fully, since these useful, unassuming individuals are typically at the bottom of the salary scale.)

None of the above is particularly to knock the Palo Alto Weekly, which still does better than most. (Just compare the Chronicle/SF Gate, if you will.)

Like this comment
Posted by DGN
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 2:20 pm

The city meeting about robberies should have been televised.

Like this comment
Posted by Hone, Hone On The Range
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I think we're missing out on the issue here, folks.

The home invasions must stop.

Or is it hone invasions?

Like this comment
Posted by The Woman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Wait...which Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson? If you say "Sherlock"'s Cumberbatch and Freeman, then I'm all in.

Thank you to the PA Police for "honing" or "homing", and to the PA Weekly for attending the meeting and sharing the info with us all.

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Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Ironic that Jonathan A caught the error "pour" for "pore" but not "just between you and I"--"Its" instead of "It's"--and "irregardless." One out of four could make one a journeyman hitter in MLB, but wouldn't qualify anyone for a job as a copy editor.

Colbert's comment referred to the practice of pretending to make egregious errors. Ironic, eh?

Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2014 at 3:42 pm

All for 24/7 surveillance of our city and neighborhoods. We want safety first. Anyone with something to hide, please go someplace else.

Like this comment
Posted by jon
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm

well, the police have ''something to hide''as someone here told of how they are a secretive organization. should papd go somewhere else? just asking.

Like this comment
Posted by Save the English Language
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Eric is not a "cranky grammarian". He is someone who knows how to speak english correctly.

What's wrong with speaking english correctly? Lordy it's become such a mess these days.

"Hone in" is one of the horrors of our failing educational system and too many non-native speakers flooding our community. It's wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

Hone in? What could "sharpen in" possibly mean? "Home in" comes from homing pigeons and arrows (and points) "striking home". It is a very about movement. As are the verbs "circle" ("circle in") and "dive" ("dive in"). These verbs of motion are combined with the preposition "in" for a reason, FFS! The verb sharpen is not about movement and so should not be combined with the preposition "in". It is so simple!

Look, just because a misuse of english is widely practiced does not mean it's 'ok' to force others to experience it. Picking one's nose is probably widely practiced but would you defend its practice in public in front of others?

English is such a fine nuanced beautiful language, the language of the world's greatest poets (Shakespeare, Byron, Shelly, Coleridge, Dickinson) precisely because its words are put together in such a way as to produce subtle meanings.

Throw together any two words you want to, any way you want to, and you wreck all that beauty and nuance.

Like this comment
Posted by BarronParker
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2014 at 7:10 pm

BarronParker is a registered user.

People have been suggesting comprehensive video surveillance in Palo Alto for years.

There is absolutely no way it is an invasion of privacy, except the privacy of criminals. It would be used as an aid to the police after a crime is committed. Surely that is obvious.

England has massive CCTV, which was installed because of the Irish terror campaign in the last century. The Boston marathon bomber was captured before he could kill more people through the use of CCTV.

Criminals go to places where the benefit to risk ratio for criminal activity is the greatest. Installing CCTV in Palo Alto will significantly raise their risk. It will prevent crime, because the criminals will know that they have a greater chance of being caught.

Full speed ahead with CCTV throughout the city!

Like this comment
Posted by Social Butterfly
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 6, 2014 at 3:06 am

I am getting pretty tired of looking over my shoulder walking down the street, even in the day time here in Palo Alto, which is where I grew up. Sure puts my day at attention instead of being the happy, relaxed person that I used to be.

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 6, 2014 at 8:49 am

Are the same people who are commenting about grammar also on the Planning Commission or City Council. Way to keep your eye on the ball.................

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2014 at 9:07 am

I don't have experience with video surveillance cameras but have some issues.
First, they are UGLY.
Second, while I like my current neighbors, what if I didn't and they pointed a video camera at my backyard from their property? (I heard this example on the radio recently). One might well be uneasy to have a camera filming one's property, pointed by someone one didn't like/endorse. If people have video cameras on their properties, can we know where the camera points or sweeps? It is entirely possible that some nut can use the excuse of a camera to "follow" someone on his or her own initial concern is the backyard, but also one can film who goes to someone else's front door. Do you really want full recording of such things?
I guess I do not oppose labeled city cameras in key spots in public in this city, though they are unattractive and hint of a police state, but how do we limit/control these cameras so we don't end up with a sea of them? Possibly, if there were a way to MOVE the camera(s) to current crime hot spots and actively monitor them in order to make a major attempt to quell crime and solve crime, that could be worth something.
Overall, I think there are other defensive measures we should take before resorting to cameras on every light pole. For starters, lock your doors and windows and please don't leave valuables in your cars.

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Posted by state
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 6, 2014 at 11:32 am

someone said a police state isn't a cop breaking down your door anytime, but rather the countless laws and ordinances that virtually ''handcuff'' the people with constant rules to follow or you get ''arrested''. that's a ''police state''....''pay your taxes!!''...we need new aircrafts...

Like this comment
Posted by oh my
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 6, 2014 at 1:35 pm

What a shame that those posting views on grammatical phrases should overshadow the recent and climbing crime statistics in Palo Alto. Lets hope the City of Palo Alto Police Department will be more proficient in reducing crime and use their department resources more efficiently rather than using their time to chase down bicycle riding teenagers running stop signs. It would seem that the Palo Alto Police have many excuses for the climbing crime statistics but no solutions. Perhaps the lack of educated and properly trained senior and middle management personnel, the increasing reduced moral problem, and the exodus of qualified police officers are issues our Police Chief and City Manager might want to review and address in their effort to providing a safer community.

Like this comment
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2014 at 12:04 am

I am wondering how people could ignore the plea for community help and support ........ Law enforcement is not the only one responsible for keeping our neighborhoods safe........... This is OUR community and we have a responsibility to each other and the town we all claim to be so proud of to live in....And you wonder why kids in this community don't feel supported????

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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