Burglars strike Saratoga neighborhoods

January 21, 2016 — by Frederick Kim, Angela Liu, Rachel Zhang and Jason Zhao

Residential and vehicular burglaries in Saratoga have increased in the past three years, as its affluence and the at times lax security of the neighborhoods have made the community easy prey for burglars at a time when the state is making an effort to release non-violent offenders from prisons.

Residential and vehicular burglaries in Saratoga have increased in the past three years, as its affluence and the at times lax security of the neighborhoods have made the community easy prey for burglars at a time when the state is making an effort to release non-violent offenders from prisons.

According to the sheriff’s department, 73 reported residential burglaries were reported in 2013, 98 residential burglaries in 2014 and 123 in 2015. Fifteen vehicles were burgled in 2013, 34 in 2014 and 44 in 2015.

After the FBI conducted a study on the number of criminal offenses in 2012, the city of Saratoga was awarded Safest City in California by notable ranking sites such as safewise.com and neighboorhoodscout.com.

Since then, however, Saratoga has fallen to fifth place on safewise.com, behind cities like Hillsborough and Imperial.

Howard Miller, a council member for Saratoga, attributed the trend of increased property crimes in the city in part to the approval of Proposition 47 and the reduction of police forces in San Jose.

Prop 47, which was approved in late 2014, reduced the state’s prison population by releasing thousands of inmates, especially those who had been imprisoned for drug-related, non-violent offenses. The measure was intended to save the state $100-$150 million statewide. Part of the money was allocated to go to public schools and crime prevention and safety awareness programs to counteract the increase of offenders.

But with the influx of inmates back into communities, crimes have increased throughout the state, including Saratoga.

“As long as the criminals are in jail, our community is safe. Unfortunately, some of our lawmakers didn’t see it that way,” said Rick Sung, Division Commander at Santa Clara County Office of the Sheriff. “When all these criminals don’t get locked up, we see more property crimes.”

Sheriff’s deputy Chad Garton, the school’s resource officer, also attributed the influx in Saratoga burglaries to economic conditions, relatively light penalties and relaxed safety precautions.

As the economy starts slumping, there are [fewer] jobs available to people, and [because] people need to pay the bills, they turn to crime,” Garton said.


How burglaries happen

The penalty for a first-offense residential burglar, in which the homeowners are not present, is up to 120 days of jail time; if the homeowners are present, it is a mandatory three-year sentence. Because of the drastic difference in sentences, Garton said many burglaries occur during the daytime, when most residents are not at home.

Even so, the punishments fail to deter many “burglary crews” from breaking into homes. Garton said that each crew consists of around three or four people, each with a specialized task. One acts as the lookout and driver, who waits around the corner, while the other two to three enter the home and steal valuables.

The sheriff’s department has recently noticed a tactic commonly employed by burglars known as “Knock and Talk.”  A burglar will knock on the door, and if the resident answers, the burglar will either pretend to be a solicitor selling a product or attempt to create an excuse. If the burglar receives no answer, he or she will force entry through a door or a window in the backyard and proceed to steal.

Each burglar crew specializes in stealing specific valuables and targets a particular region. For instance, Garton said that some groups focus on burgling electronics to resell on sites such as Craigslist, and others target Asian communities.

The Golden Triangle neighborhood with a heavily Asian demographic has fallen victim to many cases of burglary.  

One victim of crime is senior Sweeya Raj. Last November she parked her car in front of her house in the Golden Triangle neighborhood and accidentally left her purse on her backseat.

In the morning, she found her backseat window shattered, and her purse gone. Though the purse contained only a few gift cards, the purse itself was expensive, and her driver’s license was in it. Two other vehicles on her street were also burgled that night.

The deputies arrived at the scene in the morning, interviewed Raj and her neighbors and collected fingerprints. Since then, Raj has not received any information regarding the capture of the burglars.  

Raj advised people to practice simple safety precautions.

“Don’t leave stuff in your car,” Raj said, “because no one is going to break into your car if there is nothing worth stealing. I never leave anything in my car anymore, and it shouldn’t be a problem really.”


Sheriff’s efforts to decrease crime

The sheriff’s department has taken the initiative to saturate burglary-prone areas with patrols. According to Garton, many sheriff’s deputies drive unmarked units and wear inconspicuous attire.

“[The sheriff’s deputies] contact people walking on the roads, we contact suspicious vehicles and we basically sit back and watch to see, if anybody is doing anything suspicious like going into a backyard,” Garton said. “Using those techniques about three hours ago, we caught three burglars in the city of Cupertino [on Jan. 14.] It works. It works very well.”

Sheriff’s deputies also use the Internet to inform residents to make them alert of potential danger.

“We send out a lot of information via Nextdoor, a social network more specific to crime prevention and sharing information, to inform our citizens of what’s going on and what the latest technology or methods that criminals utilize so that they can watch out for those types of behaviors,” Sung said.

In addition to the sheriff’s department’s efforts to reduce burglaries, Garton warned residents not to “become the victim easily.”

“I say that because a lot of times people leave doors and windows unlocked. Don’t do that,” Garton said. “Don’t leave valuables in plain sight, especially your vehicles. Lock your vehicles up.”

Garton also recommended that the community install security cameras and alarms as essential preventive measures.

Junior Swetha Srinivasan, whose family has installed security cameras after a few houses located in her neighborhood were burgled last August, said creating a community watch group could also further increase security.

“The Golden Triangle is surrounded by three or four schools anyway, so I think people need to try and watch out and have a watch group,” Srinivasan said. “I know there are many adults who would be willing to start that and contribute to that.”

Efforts to reduce the burglary rate have been implemented by residents and the sheriff’s department, but, Srinivasan said that others in the community need to wake up

“Saratoga residents tend to be too careless,” Srinivasan said. “We should think of our homes as a safe. Our safe needs to be lock and protected when we aren't there to protect it.”

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