The gun-point robbery, which alarmed residents and law enforcement, is possibly linked to similar crimes around the Bay Area, Lt. Zach Perron said. Detectives are collaborating with other law-enforcement agencies to identify possible suspects and connections.
But the take-home message for residents Tuesday was to do everything they can to protect themselves, and that includes keeping valuables out of vehicles, carrying few credit cards, not 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 entry 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 the audio ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system 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 are up 15 percent. In 2012, there were 26 such crimes. In 2013, the number rose to 30, he said. Most recently, a man on a bicycle tried to snatch two purses on Jan. 29.
Auto burglaries have skyrocketed, increasing 70 percent over last year, and reports of stolen vehicles are up 44 percent, Det. Sgt. James Reifschneider said.
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 & Country Village, 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 have made some arrests. Last October, officers apprehended 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 incidents, few acts of violence occur in the city. The majority of crimes 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 of the police arrests, said Cindy Hendrickson, outgoing Santa Clara County supervising deputy district attorney.
And police on Jan. 16 arrested Vernon Rayshaun Evans-Carmichael, a San Francisco resident who is charged with 27 felonies associated with local auto burglaries dating back to June 2013.
"It's just good, old-fashioned police work," Hendrickson said of the arrest.
Police said they have increased plainclothes officers, foot, bicycle and vehicle patrols throughout the city to combat and deter crime.
"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, police said. Tips for protecting home and person can be found on the police websites at www.cityofpaloalto.org/StopCrime and www.cityofpaloalto.org/PAPDConnect.