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Police seek public's help in combating burglaries

Original post made on Mar 29, 2012

Palo Alto has experienced 71 residential burglaries since January, the largest spike since 2007, the Palo Alto Police Department told more than 120 residents Wednesday night.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, March 29, 2012, 9:52 AM

Comments (29)

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Posted by Watching
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Want to give credit where credit is due, the PAPD sounds like they are not going to put up with this recent spike in crimes. Please, take heed of their advice.

I do hope that more neighborhoods try a Neighborhood Watch campaign.

PAPD states they want us to call if any suspicious behaviour is observed, please do this ! Sometimes, (at least myself), I don't. I recall a car parked outside my home that did not look in any way familiar. A female was in the driver's seat, and I as I came back home after 1 hour, she was still there. I had another errand, saw again, still there 1.5 hours later. I should have called then! Instead, I peered as I drove past, the woman yelled out her window at me, and as she did this, I saw she has a passenger, he had been in a reclining position, and immediately looked up, I said, "I'd like to know if I can help you?". As I wrote, she yelled, "We are waiting for her!", as she pointed to my neighbor's house. This could not be -- I knew my neighbors and their workers, before I could dial 911, she had started her car and made a quick exit.

CALL 911, don't be afraid -- you are most likely doing your neighbors or yourselves a favor and helping the police find these criminals. Take photos, etc., as much information as possible to the police can follow-up.

PS : I did get the license plate of the vehicle, and reported to the police a week later -- they advised me that I should have called that very day/moment. Nothing could be done or investigated after the fact.

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Posted by Raymond Lucas
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I follow Louis st. everyday to/from work and I always keep my eyes open.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I usually like the mail carriers but they do change from time to time, so expecting them to know residents and residences, and note suspicious changes, seems a minor factor.
I focus more on prevention by residents than observing suspicious persons. Let's make this an area not so welcoming to robbers and thieves.
I think robbers go where they have the likeliest time of easily getting valuables.. I can't believe some people don't bother to close windows and lock doors here when they go out. Make it part of your daily life. I always do this.
Lock your cars also. Please don't make it easy for robbers. It IS a reality that people here have nice tech items and perhaps they should not always be lying around where they can be seen through a window.

Other basic tips are having someone pick up your newspaper when you travel rather than leaving them to pile up on your driveway. Sometimes we put our neighbors' trash bins out (and return them) and they do this for us also, when someone travels. Put a lamp on a timer when you travel, too. Just don't give off clear signals that the residence is unoccupied - and that nobody will be aware of a break-in if it should happen.

I have always made it a point to live where there is good lighting - good street lighting helps - so turn on your outside lights at night or consider installing some lighting. Some streets are really dark and I think this assists criminals scanning for an easy break-in.

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Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm

It's the economy folks. Stop supporting self-serving ideologies and politicians. Everyone needs decent jobs or the training to get one. If young people have no prospects for a job with a liveable wage, and no money coming in, they will resort to crime.

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Posted by watney
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm

we don't want the ''zimmerman'' effect to be in place!

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I received a note today that cars in the parking lot of the First Congregational Church at the corner of Louis and Embarcadero were burglarized last Sunday. Anyone know about this event?

Also, it might help if there were a map of the burglaries. I'm the sure police have it. Is there a URL?

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm

OK, here is a link to a crime map:

Web Link

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm

> I'm the sure police have it.
> Is there a URL?

This service is provided by a 3rd party. The Palo Alto police have never shown any interest in making this sort of information available to the public on its web-site, in a simple, downloadable, format.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm

> we don't want the ''zimmerman'' effect to be in place!

So you don't believe in Neighborhood Watch?

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Posted by magazine
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm

no ,people dont believe in racial profiling.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm

> we don't want the ''zimmerman'' effect to be in place!

No, we don't want vigilantes with guns roaming our streets.

If you see anything you don't like the look of (regardless of the skin color of what you see) call the police and let them take over.

No guns on our streets please!

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2012 at 3:06 pm

> No guns on our streets please!

You do understand that "guns" are our 2nd Amendment Right. Where do people get the right to steal from us, and we not have the right to protect ourselves?

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Posted by SOME GUY
a resident of University South
on Mar 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm


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Posted by 911
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2012 at 3:24 pm

If you see someone acting suspiciously, then call 911 and let the police figure it out. Take a photo if you have your camera handy. Don't go chasing them down the street with a gun. This is not Florida or Texas.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Ok everyone. Go and adopt a dog...a pet can be the best alarm.
Does anyone know if the break in happened when dogs were in the house.

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Posted by Cora
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2012 at 11:30 pm

The article says that there are 6-8 patrols at any one time. So, if I divide PA map into 6-8 sections, statistically, I should see a patrol car pretty often in the neighborhood. But I rarely encountered any patrol car going around in our area in the back streets. I have seen Google car more often than patrol cars! Where are these patrols!

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Posted by PAPD at minumum staffing...
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2012 at 12:05 am

For Cora, the article does state the 6-8 officers, but unfortunately that is assuming PAPD runs above minimum staffing requirements. From talking to officers the other day, they typically run on "minimums" That for the most part is 6 total, including a LT that doesn't answer any calls or normally do any patrol. At least one more officer is a supervisor, leaving 4 officers actually responsible for the entire city. They also told me that just two 911 calls during this staffing would cause all 4 officers out on patrol to be unavailable (2 officers per 911 for safety). I'm not trying to make any excuses for them but I honestly think they are out there as much as possible.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2012 at 8:11 am

One poster makes the point that the PA Police Department is at minimum staffing. They may be true, but so what? Why isn't the Police Chief looking for alternatives to this short-term problem?

What about having Mountain View, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office), and Palo Alto actually "regionalize" a little, and do some patrolling in areas that border each of the towns. If, for instance, Mountain View and Palo Alto police were to cover the zone between East Charleston and Ringsdorf, that would add coverage to each other's towns, with no additional cost to police budgets.

Palo Alto and Menlo Park could share patrol zones, too.

And then there is the possibility of hiring private sector security firms to patrol, freeing up sworn officers to be involved in more important work. Private security companies would not carry weapons, and would not be involved in arrests. However, their presence on our streets would provide additional eyes that would be fully functioning surrogates for the police.

This mornings San Jose paper is carrying an article that describes a new service that is being offered by Comcast:

Web Link

On Friday, the company will begin offering security and home monitoring services to Bay Area customers of its Internet service. Such smart home technologies would alert consumers if someone broke into their house, allow them to adjust their thermostat and turn lights in their house on and off while away from home, and remotely view video taken from cameras placed in and around their home.

This sort of "connectivity" is tapping the Internet/web in ways that offer localized information about a situation in a person's home to be detected, and forward to a central site via the Internet. While not fundamentally different that a "hard-wired" security system, it should prove to cheaper than a hard-wired system, and have two-way capabilities.

Wonder if the Palo Alto police will take note of any of these technologies?

And then there is the issue of surveillance technologies which have been totally ignored by the Palo Alto police.

Maybe it's time to begin to look for new management at City Hall, where the police are concerned.

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Posted by To PAPD Minimum Staffing
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 30, 2012 at 10:23 am

Its really too bad some people speak and sound like they know what they are talking about but they don't so they completely mislead the conversation.

PAPD Minimum Stfaffing

1 Watch Commander
1 Supervisor
6 Officers

So yes there are 6 officers out everyday. Some days depending on vacations or training etc their could be up to 8 officers (that is rare). Additionally, the PD has added two more officers to the burglary patrol. They have also added the three traffic officers into the patrols between their morning and late day activities at the schools. They have also pulled other resources from the officers that patrol downtown and other specialties. They also have the burgalry detectives working full time on this problem and setting aside other work. The police shared all this at their meeting the other night for those who went.

So bottom line 6 out every day and most days they are doubling that with other resources.

Yes some of the other comments are correct. Frequently the basic 6 officers from patrol can easily get tied up with a couple calls, following up at the hospital with an injury case or accident, or booking prisoners in San Jose.

Other cities have similar staffing models so routine help from them is unlikely. Havings said that when there is an active search for something that just occurred, all the cities chip in to help as you saw with Mt View and Palo Alto last week. There were about 25 officers searching in that case.

To Cora. One of the patrol beats is everything south of Oregon to San Antonio and everything east of Alma out to the bay. How often do you think that officer sees every street in that large area. No one has enough money or personnel to meet what you suggest.

To Observer. are you really advocating the police some how get invovled in home security monitoring of video in my home. Yeah that will go over real big.Also unwired video technology has a long way to go. Its great to get video of a shadow, or something blury, or something with little resolution. If its not a crystal clear face its completey useless

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 30, 2012 at 11:50 am

SOME GUY: I think you mean "closed circuit" TV cameras. "Close captioned" is the text on the bottom of screen for those who can't hear.

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Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I echo Minimum Staffing from Another Palo Alto Neighborhood's sentiments, and would like to add that due to the many budget cuts the police department has faced over the past several years they are running at minimum staffing more often than not. Those cuts have also been responsible for the elimination of specialized teams and the regional efforts that Observer alluded to. Palo Alto is not the only police department facing budget issues and reductions in staffing. Our neighboring police agencies are faced with the same challenges and trying to police their own cities with minimum staffing levels. I too would like to see greater cooperation and teamwork amongst police agencies, and from the officers I have spoken with so would they. However, the reductions in staffing, at least for the time being, leave them with fewer options in this regard.

We also have to keep in mind that the police department has to cope with a myriad of issues. The world of crime and problems do not stop for a burglary trend. I think most people would be quite surprised at the pace and level of service calls that the police department has to deal with. Even an affluent community like ours is touched with serious issues and challenges. Having participated in the ride-along program through the Citizen's Academy, I was truly shocked at what took place over the course of 2-3 patrol shifts. The officers had to deal with domestic violence, child abuse, a sexual assault, drunk drivers, people fighting, just to name a few. Many of these calls require multiple officers to investigate, which leaves even fewer of them on the street available for calls. When a serious in-progress call was broadcast, the entire available force had to be deployed. The police department is not blessed with a great deal of depth and availability when it comes to staffing. Remember they're operating with 15-20% less approved personnel than they were twenty years ago, and that doesn't include the 14 positions that they're currently down.

Through all this I still find it remarkable that they have been able to make numerous arrests and cleared several of these Palo Alto burglary cases. They definitely have to do more with less, and I appreciate their dedication and efforts.

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Posted by Thoughtful
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2012 at 6:47 pm

As mentioned by Observer, it'd interesting if enough people in neighborhood installed personal video security cameras to monitor their own front doors and side entries (in addition to locking their doors, installing security etc.). There would probably be some high resolution pictures of people who are going up to houses to see if people are home and other suspicious activity. These could then be shared by the homeowner with the PAPD.

Here's a story on ABC news from November 2011 from a suburb near Oakland:
Web Link
It'd be great to have a coordinated effort with PAPD and maybe some city guidelines on correct usage (coverage v. privacy, when and where to send captured video, etc.).

Two that look interesting are:
Web Link
Web Link

Quality seems pretty good. Both appear to send e-mail alerts based on motion detection. The nice thing about Dropcam seems to be that if you sign up for the annual plan, even if someone physically takes the camera, you still can access the video from the cloud for up to a week.

As an additional plus, both companies are based in the Bay Area (Dropcam - SF with Palo Alto VC Funding, Logitech - Fremont) so we'd be supporting the local economy.

If anyone has used these products, it'd be great to hear any first hand experience. Also curious about the community's thoughts/comments (privacy concerns?, etc.).

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2012 at 7:38 pm

> To Observer. are you really advocating the police some how
> get involved in home security monitoring of video in my home

Well .. maybe .. it depends on the capabilities offered. The idea that the police would monitor video feeds is not exactly what is being suggested. What is being suggested is that intelligent sensors would detect the sound of broken glass, or doors being opened when they are alarmed, and motion detectors would activate high quality video recordings at various locations around the home. Depending on this, that and the other, the home owner would be contacted via smart phone App. This App would offer the home owner a synopsis of the home’s security situation—which might include stills, or moving video, of people moving around inside the home. The App would offer the user the option to contact 911 to request help. But what is being suggested here is that the police would have software that would allow Apps like this one to forward all of the information that is needed to report a possible home burglary over the network, so that the 911 operators would then have all of the information that they need before actually talking to the home owner.

The police would then have the ability to download the video from the home, should they need it. Software would then go to work attempting to extract the particulars of the people who were in the video.

Number of people, height, general build, race, color of clothing, and possible weapons could be extracted from the video, plus the date/time when the videos were recorded. The key issue here is that the video streams are high enough quality, and that recordings that provide meaningful information are made.

With any luck, still frames could be extracted from the video feed, and broadcast to patrol cars on the move—providing as much information about the people to be looking for.

Such a system would need 5-7 day battery backup, and possibly a wireless connection (such as LTE) in addition to a wireline connection to gain network access.

No estimate on a tricked out system, but Comcast seems to be offering a system for about $40/month.

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Posted by Phil
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2012 at 10:13 pm

From what I have learned video surveillance is selectively used by police departments throughout the country, although not on a large scale basis. In addition to the costs involved, there are still layers of privacy issues that need to be debated and worked out. Technological advances in the video field will undoubtedly become a greater part of police work in the future. It is too valuable a resource not to develop and consider. The Palo Alto Police Department are among the few agencies in Santa Clara County and on the peninsula however that have patrol cars equipped with video/audio capability. No system is perfect, but it's encouraging that police departments are willing to embrace this technology.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2012 at 8:06 am

> patrol cars equipped with video/audio capability.

Supposedly the audio is turned off, per the demands of the sworn officers, to presumably keep the public from hearing what they have to say. Moreover, there have been allegations that the police have edited these videos when they have been called for by people alleging wrong doing by the police. At the moment, how these videos are being managed, access by the public, and whether the police can even edit them, or when they can edit them, is still somewhat of a mystery to the public--as the police too often treat the public with contempt in Palo Alto.

The use of video in police cars is useful only in traffic stops, and not what is being discussed at a larger level, particularly in people's homes. The point about privacy is somewhat of an issue in the public use of video, but Britain has installed thousands of CCTVs and doesn't seem to have had a big problem in that department.

Web Link

The value of CCTVs in solving crimes is yet to be proven, at least in Britain. The closure rate for crimes that can be attributed to CCTV (in public areas) is very low. That said, the young men responsible for the London Bombings that occurred in 2005 were identified fairly quickly and their movements traced through the subways via the CCTV recordings. It's difficult to believe that the police would rather have had to investigate this carnage without CCTV recordings.

Again, the discussion here is about surveillance video in the home, where these sorts of privacy issues do not exist.

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Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 31, 2012 at 10:16 am

Not quite accurate Observer. I saw how it works first hand. First of all, the audio equipment remains in the on position. The officers do have the ability to turn the audio off, however, during a detention, arrest, or investigative stop, the circumstances must meet the criteria per their department policy in order for them to do so. As for the editing, and allegations of wrongdoing, it's my understanding that there have only been allegations made but nothing proven, and that was in only one case. If you can cite a case where wrongdoing or inappropriate editing was done then I'd like to hear about it. Like any other police document or record, these videos are also subject to the discovery and subpoena process like any other record.

You also mentioned that the police video/audio is "useful only in traffic stops". Whenever I hear people make absolute references, like "only", it bears greater attention. Again, nothing could be further from reality. Although the camera's forward position seems to make it a natural fit for traffic stops and the like, the audio equipment catches sound for an area surrounding several yards. It does audio record conversations and events that take place out of the view of the camera, whether it be capturing the statements made by a victim, suspect, or witness, as well as accurately tracking chronological events. The officers are also trained to position the camera equipment in their patrol cars whenever possible to capture events and aid in investigations. For example, during a suicidal stand-off with a man in a house, at least two officers intentionally positioned their patrol cars in order to record what transpired. The man surrendered peacefully thankfully, and it was all recorded. I also observed the officers position their patrol cars and mobile video equipment at a crime scene that happened to be on the sidewalk and street, as well as a fatal accident on El Camino. This enabled them to immediately and more accurately record those scenes real time for future investigative purposes.

Again, another thing we need to remind ourselves of is that Palo Alto is one of the few police agencies that possess mobile video/audio capability at all. In my opinion that is a huge step in the right direction toward giving the police the ability to conduct more thorough and accurate investigations, greater transparency, and protecting themselves from false accusations. From what I gathered the officers have been very happy with the mobile video technology. It has exonerated their actions in several instances when people made false or exaggerated accusations.

Finally, as for the claim that the police in Palo Alto "too often" treat the public with contempt, well, I suppose that heavily depends on one's experience and perception. At least you didn't speak in absolutes on that point. I'm not exactly sure when an entire police department crosses the line of "too often" when it comes to contempt of the public, but my perception is that it's probably more like an occasional occurrence. For every officer that has a bad moment, there are legions that engage and treat people with dignity and respect, even under very difficult circumstances. But again, it's all perspective.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2012 at 7:53 am

> not quite accurate

Perhaps that’s a fair comment. On the other hand, the police do not provide any detailed information to the public about exactly how audio recordings are handled.

The following Weekly article addresses the issue in 2005, when these cameras were first installed--

The jury in the patrol car
Web Link

What the police do now as to audio being turned on/off, as a policy statement, can not be found on the police web-site.

> alleged tampering of video

Not only does the police have video (and possibly audio) recordings from the cameras in the patrol cars, but they also now can have video/audio from their Taser weapons--

Report: 'Police tampered with Taser recordings':
Web Link

And with smart phones and inexpensive digital cameras being ubiquitous, police are now demanding people’s cameras, and whatever is in these cameras/phones, to use as evidence in a specific crime, or to go fishing for evidence of other crimes. How this video is handled, once in police custody, is not specified by any public policy statements that can be found on the police web site.

In the case here in Palo Alto where police misconduct was alleged, a 3rd party examined the video file and came to the conclusion that it had been edited. However, no details were released to the public as to how that conclusion was made. The police denial was predictable, but no details were released as to how it was “impossible” for the file to have been edited/modified. So, the public was left in the dark as to whether these files were easily edited, or what protections the public could expect from police handling of its own evidence.
Where violent crime is concerned, Palo Alto is a low-incidence community. So, the use of Tasers has been limited. Presumably attorneys for DUI arrestees have made requests for the traffic stop videos, but there don’t seem to have been any problems in the handling of these videos—based on the lack of complaints from attorneys. However, with no yearly reports about police activity produced—we simply don’t know how many of these requests there are, or if there have been issues about these video files in the past.

> contempt for the public

This topic is worth discussing, but would move away from this threads focus too much. In this case, the police are looking for help, and we should probably be thinking about this matter—rather than the dark side of their behavior when performing their duties.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2012 at 11:09 am

Another suggestion that the police could have made, but have not, is to begin to use “high-tech tagging” of valuables. That means using barcodes, QR codes, and RFID tags which can be easily read by police when property is located, so that it not only can be used to shorten the investigation time, but also to reduce the time before the property is returned to its owners.

What is suggested here is that people purchase some sort of “tagging” capability, install it, or affix it, to their belongings, and then record the ID information both at home, and in some secure location (presumably on the “Cloud” and also in paper format—such as in a safety deposit box). When a theft occurs, then this information could be readily transmitted to the police and registered in the case files, and possibly in a regional database of currently known to be stolen property. Police all over the Bay Area would want to be referring to, and contributing to, this database.

The details of such a system obviously would run on to several pages. But at a minimum. People should be somehow identifying their property with “marks” and making video recordings of these marks, so that they can help the police identify the property when it is recovered.

These are simple things that people can do beyond “locking it or losing it”. Unfortunately, the Palo Alto police don’t seem to understand that technology can help them do their jobs solving property crimes involving home owners/businesses/renters.

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Posted by Tracy
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2012 at 10:52 am

Sorry But I would Taser the fool that would try and rob from me!!
Wheather they are Black, White, Blue, Green, Yellow, Red, Just saying!
2nd. Amendment right to protect.

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

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