From surveillance cameras to neighborhood-warning signs, residents are strategizing to deter and perhaps even catch the thieves, who have made off with tens of thousands of dollars in jewelry, cash and electronics since late last year.
Email lists from Crescent Park to Barron Park are crackling with the latest news about suspicious vehicles cruising residential streets. Last week, concerned north Palo Alto residents discussed a white van seen on their streets and gave information about it, complete with license number, to the Palo Alto police.
Neighbors' increasing vigilance might help nab thieves like the ones who on Sept. 24 pilfered UPS parcels from a Crescent Park front porch within 30 seconds of the delivery. The resident, who asked that her name and home information not be made public, has shared images from her surveillance video with her neighbors and with police, she said.
Others are following suit. Annette Glanckopf of the Midtown Residents Association said many people in her neighborhood are installing cameras.
The victim of the UPS-package theft said she initially installed the home cameras to act as a deterrent to would-be robbers.
"But these kids were very brazen, or maybe too stupid, to see the cameras pointing everywhere," she said.
Though the police were unable to apprehend the thieves in her case, she shared the data from the cameras with officers, she said.
"The surveillance helped. ... We could see what happened during every moment after the UPS truck left," she said.
She believes the installation of additional cameras in her neighborhood will be key to the crime-fighting effort.
"The residents need to do more to protect ourselves so that crooks don't think we are easy targets. And we can do that by having more surveillance at intersections that lead out of our neighborhoods. If they know we have eyes on them, they will move on," she said.
Jim Lewis, who lives near the border of Crescent Park and Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhoods, said he and other residents are working to host a community forum on home, auto and personal safety.
"With the recent spike in home burglaries, auto break-ins and personal confrontations, the meeting is timely," he said.
The group is actively discussing potential methods, such as alarm and camera systems, locking gates, dogs, enhancing lighting, including some with motion detectors, and reviving a Neighborhood Watch program. They are also developing a list of vendors who install the devices, he said.
Old Palo Alto resident Stan Hutchings has created a handout, "Who Are You, parked in front of my house," that residents can place on unfamiliar cars that appear to be loitering. The flier's purpose is to give neighbors a way to let potential criminals know that people are watching, he said.
"The appeal for people to park in their driveway and ask their guests and workers to park in front of their house, and for everyone to be alert for vehicles that don't belong, seemed like a good idea," Hutchings said. "The appeal was in response to a recent burglary a few blocks away."
Palo Alto jeweler Georgie Gleim said that while security such as cameras and surveillance is important, sharing information is the best defense. She should know.
"We host a local industry network for just this purpose, and it has helped jewelers throughout the Bay Area prevent losses," she said.
Many of the residential burglaries have involved jewelry thefts totaling tens of thousands of dollars. On a neighborhood level, prompt information-sharing can help everyone, she added.
"We all end up being each other's keepers in some ways," she said.
On Oct. 1, an alert resident called 9-1-1, an act that led to the apprehension of an alleged serial auto burglar, 30-year-old Abigail Lee of Santa Clara.
She had 50 car keys in her possession to facilitate break-ins, according to Palo Alto police. She also had items stolen during other car burglaries in San Jose and Santa Clara.
The residents' efforts come at a time of increased vigilance by the Palo Alto Police Department, which launched a "Lock it or Lost It" campaign earlier this year in response to the huge spike in burglaries. The trend seems to have eased somewhat over the past month. After a busy August in which there were 28 reported residential burglaries, the number dropped to 14 in September, according to police statistics. So far this year, police have arrested 25 suspects for residential burglaries, including four who they believe are connected to the September cases.
There have been 160 residential burglaries reported in the first nine months of 2012, compared to 108 in 2011, police reported.
The department noted in a statement that the frequency of residential burglaries, like other types of crime, "is cyclical in nature." It encourages residents to remain vigilant and to report suspicious behavior immediately.
"A partnership between alert residents and the police is one of the most effective ways to combat the burglary problem," the department's statement read.