Police reports from Menlo Park, Woodside, Atherton and Portola Valley from the last two weeks of July show estimated losses of $94,460 from some 44 incidents of burglary and theft. The list includes two residential burglaries, one in Ladera and one in Menlo Park, in which the losses in each incident were set at $30,000, and another burglary in Menlo Park for an $11,000 loss.
The losses included jewels, electronic gear, tools and bicycles. The damages include smashed car windows, pried open doors, ruined coin boxes on apartment-complex washing machines and, for people with offices on the crest of Sand Hill Road, a wake-up call to the vulnerability of their desks to thievery while away for lunch. In short, lives disrupted by crime.
Rates of property crime are up in the region, said Commander Dave Bertini of the Menlo Park Police Department. Teams of daytime burglars are working the Bay Area, their methods refined for quick and efficient action that does not draw attention to what they're doing, he explained. "These guys are really fast," Cmdr. Bertini said.
Deputy Rebecca Rosenblatt of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office noted that sophistication on the job is is not limited to legitimate work. "Anybody that does any job tries to become most effective at it. If you're a burglar and this is your chosen profession, if you can call it that, you might study people's (habits)," she said. "You can become exceedingly good at your job."
"Fortunately," she added, "it is our job to be more savvy and more on it (than the burglars)."
Detectives from throughout San Mateo County will meet in the coming week to discuss leads and the commonalities among the incidents, Cmdr. Bertini said.
Reports from the state attorney general's office show arrest rates for property crimes improving by about 25 percent a year every year since 2008, with annual increases of more than 40 percent for suspected burglaries and more than 30 percent for thefts.
Property crime in the United States as a whole was down 0.8 percent in 2012 when compared to 2011, but in the Western states, rates rose 5.2 percent, according to a June 2013 FBI report on crime statistics. In California, after 20 years of decreases, property crime rates began to rise in 2011.
Securing your home
In addition to the basic advice of locking doors and windows -- the entry points most sought by burglars and thieves -- the Menlo Park Police Department offers residents an analysis from an in-house team of officers and community service officers trained in techniques that make a home less inviting to would-be criminals.
The Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) program recommends steps such as a well-kept property, a fence to reinforce territorial boundaries, and lighting and clear lines of sight that make concealing oneself on a property more difficult.
Go to this link for more information.
The family name on a mailbox serves as an entry point, Cmdr. Bertini said. A web search for an address can answer many basic questions. With a name and/or an address, an enterprising burglar can track a resident on social media and pick up useful information about what's in the house and the most opportune time to pay it a visit.
The average resident doesn't think like a criminal, according to Deputy Rosenblatt. Locking doors and windows and not leaving a house key under a doormat are the most important steps. "It isn't new advice, but it's advice that people don't often take," she said. "It's not rocket science, but there are fairly simple ways that you can make yourself safer."
To lower prison expenses, state prison authorities in 2012 began a "realignment" program in which inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes such as burglary and theft were transferred out of prison and into county jail. Penalties for those convicted of nonviolent property crime are now much less likely to include time in prison.
Time spent in county jail is not the hard time spent in state prison, Cmdr. Bertini said. "They know that. The bad guys, the crooks know that." Realignment was a bad idea, he said.
Asked to comment, Deputy Rosenblatt said that the effectiveness of incarceration as a deterrent to crime has a long and controversial history, but she did note the FBI's statistics and did not discount the possibility that criminals are making new calculations. She said she is waiting for an analysis of realignment after a three-year trial. "I think that the statistics will speak for themselves," she said.