"We're not going to solve this without your help," Chief Dennis Burns said.
The meeting kicked off the department's "Lock It or Lose It" campaign, which focuses on a strategy of public awareness and participation and increased patrols.
Burns said the department is committed to quashing the burglaries, most of which have occurred during the daytime.
Police did not identify the reasons behind the surge, but Lt. Zach Perron said such spikes are cyclical and often come when convicted burglars are released from prison after serving time for prior offenses.
Palo Alto had a total of 149 residential burglaries in 2011 and 110 in 2010. In just the first three months of this year, there have been 71 burglaries, Perron said. By comparison, there were 31 burglaries in the first three months of 2011, 22 in 2010, 35 in 2008 and 72 in 2007, Lt. Dave Flohr said.
Other cities are also experiencing a similar trend, Flohr said. Residential burglaries have risen 70 percent in Menlo Park, 48 percent in Redwood City and 17 percent in Mountain View, Flohr said.
Police have made 14 arrests and closed nine Palo Alto cases, he said. Perron said while that might not seem like many arrests, people should keep in mind that any one burglar does not commit only one crime.
The department has six to eight officers on patrol at a time. To beef up security, two daytime officers from downtown and additional personnel, including detectives, are patrolling neighborhoods, he said. But the real thrust in fighting the crime wave will come from creating "a force multiplier," Perron said.
Palo Alto is reaching out to other city staff as well as private delivery-company workers to help in the battle against crime. The police have briefed 70 employees who drive water, gas and utilities vehicles on how to identify suspicious behavior. The department is engaging private delivery companies, such as FedEx and UPS, mail carriers, garbage-and-waste-management workers and meter readers, teaching them what to look out for, Perron said.
But residents are at the heart of "Lock It or Lose It," he said, encouraging people to take their own precautions in order to stop crime. Statistics show that 64 percent of the time the criminals were accessing homes that were unsecured, Perron said.
In 2011, 36 percent of burglaries involved thieves gaining entry through an unlocked window or door. In another 28 percent of burglaries, the mode of entry could not be identified, but it is assumed burglars entered through an unsecured window or door.
Perron urged people to lock doors and windows — and side gates, since the burglars are often going into back yards where they are hidden from view and are free to get in through a window or door.
If residents get a tingling sense that something is wrong, they should call 911 or the general dispatch number, 650-326-2413.
"Too often people rationalize," he said.
If a stranger is looking over fences or trying vehicle door handles, one shouldn't necessarily think the person is lost.
"People aren't suspicious; behaviors are suspicious," he said, adding that just because someone is wearing an orange vest and looks like a utility worker, it doesn't mean he or she is one.
"You've got to drill down into their behavior," he said. "Trust the hairs on the back of your neck."
The Palo Alto Police Department is also launching a social media campaign on Facebook, Twitter.com (@PaloAltoPolice), Nixle.com, and rBlock.com.
The Facebook page went live Wednesday. The department will post news releases, crime prevention tips, human interest stories, crime statistics, photos, videos and more on these outlets in order to reach different segments of the community, Perron said.
"We encourage people who may not be up-to-speed on social media to have their children or grandchildren sign up on their behalf and let them know of any important news," he said.
TALK ABOUT IT
Do you or your neighbors plan to take steps to secure your home or neighborhood as a result of the recent burglaries? Talk about the spike in burglaries on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.
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