Town Square

Lions vs. burglars

Original post made by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Jul 8, 2006

Two years ago we were worried about mountain lions invading our yards in Palo Alto. This year we are worried about burglars invading our houses. I’d rather worry about the lions.

My reasoning: The chances of a mountain lion breaking and entering my home are far less than a burglar getting in.

We’ve all read about the rash of burglaries here in town and none of us know what to do about it. Neither, apparently, does the police.

Residential burglaries have increased 75 percent in Palo Alto in the first six months of the year compared to last year. And counting through July 5, there have been 129 residential burglaries, compared to 183 for all of 2005. They typically occur during the day, and the burglaries are occurring all over town. Auto thefts and burglaries continue at about the same rate as last year.

Police Chief Lynne Johnson said her department is doing its best, and has stepped up patrols. She’s asked all of us to watch our neighborhoods and report anything suspicious.

But the police still haven’t figured out why Palo Alto is such a sudden prime target, and not neighboring cities. The police speculate that the burglars may be after money to buy more drugs, specifically methamphetamines, but that still doesn’t explain why Palo Alto is being hit so hard, particularly south Palo Alto residences.

Residents are coming up with all sorts of suggestions on what to do – form Neighborhood Watch groups, install monitors on one’s house, add additional street lights, have vigilante groups patrol during the night to report any suspicious behavior, etc.

I leave the house and upon my return, now open the door and peek inside, to see if it looks the same. I never remember doing this the past 20 years. I hear a noise from my bedroom window in the middle of the night and I jump out of my bed to look outside, wondering if it’s a burglar in the street. I am not a paranoid person, and I am not particularly proud of my current paranoia.

One thing I do know. The police have been lax, so far, in sharing information with neighbors when things happen. After a June 26 burglary, police initially said they used a Teleminder system to alert residents, but later recanted, saying it wouldn’t have worked.

So now we must become vigilantes, protecting our own property borders, safeguarding our neighborhoods. As I said, I would rather worry about mountain lions.


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Posted by dp
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2006 at 3:25 am

Hope they tranquilizer guns on the burlgars.

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Posted by diana diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Jul 9, 2006 at 2:08 pm

diana diamond is a registered user.

Tranquilizer guns on burglars! Never thought about it, but an interesting concept. Better than Tasers??

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2006 at 8:44 am

Burglars know that if they get questioned they can scream race and collect money, and cops know that questioning suspicious people can kill your career.

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Posted by Wanda
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 10, 2006 at 9:43 am

Wallis's comment is ridiculous. Police question people they consider suspicious or out of their element or not familiar to a neighborhood all the time - everywhere. I've been questioned in minority neighborhoods because, as a white female, in the cops' experience, I didn't fit in. Just because racial profiling has been big news in Palo Alto doesn't mean that the cops aren't doing their job for that reason.

It's hard to win a lawsuit based on being questioned by the police. There has to be a pattern of harassment established, for one thing.

What's really going on is that Chief Johnson can't lead people out of a paper bag, much less be an effective leader during an upswinging crime spate. Call her on the carpet and make her accountable.

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Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 10, 2006 at 10:28 am

It seems the increase in local crime, tolerance of homeless people on the streets and the increased number of job seekers lined up on El Camino as "Day workers" are all relative.

Think there's a connection?

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Posted by David
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 10, 2006 at 12:36 pm

Richard: I'm not sure we've got any evidence that the burglaries are caused by the homeless or day laborers. The burglars who have been caught largely seem to reside in East Palo Alto, and the actual burglaries seem to happen during the day, when the day laborers are (like the rest of us) largely working.

I suspect that the increased burglary rate is more likely to be one of there being rumors of fabulous riches to be obtained by burgalizing Palo Alto residents passed around among the drug addicts of East Palo Alto.

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Posted by Eric
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2006 at 5:17 pm

The increase in methamphetamine drug addicts (and labs for meth in EPA) create more burglars. Palo Alto is a close easy target. Easier still because Palo Alto has more two income families than other wealthy cities like Los Altos, Atherton and Los Gatos. Burglers pick houses where no one is home, even better if the houses on all sides of the target house are empty too. Other wealthy cities like Los Altos, Atherton and Los Gatos have more wealthy *single income* households so the chances of a person being home are greater. As a downtown merchant this difference was pointed out to me by a factory rep. when he explained why it is easier to sell expensive items in Los Gatos stores than in Palo Alto stores.

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Posted by Kirk
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 12, 2006 at 7:27 pm

I have not been a victim of the current crime trend. However, since the police dept. wants us to report suspicious activity, it might be useful to understand what that might be.

Is there a desciption of the perp(s) involved? Are they male? Are they white/black/brown? Are they older or younger? Long hair or short? Tall or short? Armed? Were the victims male or female , or both?

This column by Ms. Diamond is not very helpful. It seems to say more for what it doesn't say. What is going on, Ms. Diamond?

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 13, 2006 at 12:36 am

When the construction on the Glenbrook extension began, so did crime and burglaries in the neighborhood. Isn't it obvious that construction and crime increases go hand in hand? It is to the police -- they said so when our home under remodel was burglarized. I don't think this is day labor, we had only licensed people working on our site.

Most construction workers are law abiding, but construction does bring crime increases. Isn't there any way the police can work with the planning department -- without violating civil liberties -- to check for potential patterns? People who do work on homes in an area can also scope out the area in a way they otherwise could not.

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Posted by diana diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Jul 13, 2006 at 9:57 am

diana diamond is a registered user.

Kirk -

You ask some good questions and I will see what more I can find out. But since a lot of these burglaries occur during the day when people are not home, there are few descriptions of the burglars.


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Posted by g
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2006 at 12:30 pm

Neighbor, you are correct, when my neighbor had a new home constructed a few years ago, several of the people that worked on the house knocked on my door and tried to sell tools for cash. Every one that did that was drugged out (slurred speach, practically falling over). I've seen construction sites where several cars parked at the site are from out of town, have expired plates. Potentially these folks could be involved in the crime spree but who knows.
Lets keep our eyes open and call the police if we see anything out of the ordinary.

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Posted by Kirk
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 14, 2006 at 7:02 pm


It would be helpful to know that the PA police are using all practical forenisc techniques. Most of these perps don't have a clue about modern forensics. Is there DNA/fiber/print evidence? Is there eye witness evidence?

Are police patrols aware of the criminal profiles, even if we are not?

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Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 16, 2006 at 8:30 am

It's not only burglaries that seem to have increased. I don't know the statistics (perhaps Diana can find out), but from reports in the press, it appears that robberies also have increased over the past year or so. There have been a number of reports of these ocurring in residential neighborhoods. I have been a resident for 30+ years, and I don't recall this ever happening before.

I'm not sure of the cause, but it's fair to ask whether the reason for the increased crime in Palo Alto is due to the same phenomenon that we see in many areas of Palo Alto government. That is, our eleced leaders and the senior staff seem to focus on the frills before taking the care of the basics of governmental functions. Thus, we find that the city can find $6 million to build a largely unusable bike tunnel, but can't find the money to take care of basic street maintainence. We fund study after study to figure out how to increase revenues or keep neighborhoods 'liveable' while tax-paying businesses, like auto dealerships and hotels, leave in droves. We can find the money to pay for City Manager Frank Benests property taxes, but we can't find a way to fund the libraries. The list goes on and on.

In the case of the increased crime rate, it's hard not to notice that the city has paid a lot of attention to assuring it's officers are sensitively trained and that they are ordered to keep statistics that show they aren't "profiling". These are fine things to be sure, but if the focus on them comes at the expense of basic crime-fighting and prevention, it's not surprising we see see increased crime in our City.

None of the problems in Palo Alto will be solved until we voters demand that our leaders give priority to the basics of local government: keeping the streets paved and the citizens safe - before working on the fun stuff.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 5, 2017 at 4:01 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?