Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 24, 2012

Palo Alto residential burglaries surge

Unlocked windows and doors still primary method of entry, police say

by Sue Dremann

When thieves made off with $15,000 in jewelry from a Palo Alto home on Monday, Aug. 20, they had gained entry through an open window or door, police said.

Thieves have entered the same way in several burglaries in recent weeks: by walking right through an open or unlocked door or crawling through an open window.

Police have warned residents about securing their homes numerous times since launching a vigorous anti-burglary campaign, "Lock It or Lose It!," on March 28. But many still have not heeded the advice. In 50 to 70 percent of the recent burglaries, the thieves entered through an unsecured opening, police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said.

Some of the losses in Palo Alto have been staggering: $66,000 and $70,000 in two separate incidents and a combined $24,000 in cash, jewelry and electronics from two other homes.

A $15,000 theft on the 700 block of Hamilton Avenue near Fulton Street recently was made possible due to an open bathroom window.

During a second incident that same day, burglars netted $900 in gold jewelry and a laptop on the 1100 block of South California Avenue near Oberlin Street. Once again, they entered through an open back door.

Burglaries are surging throughout the Bay Area, with jewelry and electronics as the top must-steal items. In March, safes stolen from two Mountain View residences contained $20,000 in jewelry and cash and $40,000 in cash, according to police.

"Everybody's numbers are high right now," Perron said.

Palo Alto had 81 total residential burglaries during the first four months of 2012, as compared to 34 in 2010 and 43 in 2011, according to police records. Burglaries peaked in March, with 31, police said.

The trajectory dove steeply in April — to just seven burglaries — after "Lock It or Lose It!" launched. Police credited the change to more people reporting suspicious activity and additional patrols.

But burglary rates are slowly creeping up again, with 12 in July and at least 14 through Aug. 20, according to police logs.

The July burglaries were in Downtown North, Crescent Park, Community Center, Duveneck/St. Francis, Midtown, Charleston Meadows, Old Palo Alto and Barron Park neighborhoods.

Burglars in August hit homes in Greater Miranda, Barron Park, College Terrace, Fairmeadow, Palo Verde, Midtown, University South, Community Center, Crescent Park and Greenmeadow, according to a police burglary map and logs.

The losses are not strictly monetary. Many times the jewelry taken includes family heirlooms or items of sentimental value, Agent Adrienne Moore said.

Among the most attention-grabbing heists, Alameda resident Kariem McFarlin allegedly took $66,000 in platinum, diamond-and-aquamarine-encrusted Tiffany jewelry from the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs' home on July 17, also stealing Jobs' wallet, driver's license and numerous electronics, police said.

Police were able to retrieve most of the items. A buyer on the East Coast who did not know the jewelry was stolen returned the pieces intact. But other victims might not be so lucky.

"With the value of gold, people are taking it to melt down," Moore said.

Even with extra police on the streets, the arrest of suspects, neighborhood crime-watch programs and an awareness campaign on Facebook, Twitter and rBlock, Perron said locking windows and doors is still the most important deterrent.

He speculated that the recent hot weather might be contributing to residents' lapses in locking up their homes, since people do not want to return to a hot house. But the feeling of violation and powerlessness in the aftermath of a burglary should outweigh the temporary discomfort of a stuffy home.

Residents' best defense is to lock doors and windows, he said.

"That is singularly the best message we can give. We can only hope that people hear it," he said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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