Local burglaries lead to more Neighborhood Watch groups

October 30, 2018 — by Justin Guo and Kaylene Morrison

The Saratoga Neighborhood Safety Watch program gives households communication with nearby families and with the Sheriff's Office.

A burglar targeted two homes on Sept. 25 on Lexington Court, a street branching off Herriman Avenue near the school’s front entrance.

Junior Grant Chen’s house was hit by the unknown burglar and his family lost a MacBook Pro.

“It was honestly pretty expected because while the violent crime in Saratoga is low, break-ins and misdemeanors are frequent,” Chen said. “Our family is taking more safety measures to avoid this by installing cameras and a security system.”

Senior Elaine Fan’s home was also burglarized, but the perpetrator only took cash, while other valuables like iPads and antiques were left untouched. Her family has installed security cameras since then and have become participants in the Saratoga Neighborhood Safety Watch program, which was reconstructed by councilman Rishi Kumar in 2016.

Though the program began in Saratoga in the 1960s, it had little effect in recent years because of a lack of leadership and communication among neighbors, Kumar said. The majority of Neighborhood Watch signs posted in Saratoga prior to 2016 went up decades earlier and no remaining effect.

The lack of effective watch programs became a problem as the crime rate began to rise over the past few years. From the year 2012 to 2016, the number of home break-ins in Saratoga increased from 59 in 2012 to 130 in 2016.

This led Kumar to make crime awareness and safety one of the main focuses of his 2014 campaign to revitalize Saratoga’s Neighborhood Safety Watch programs. Afterward, the number of home break-ins in 2017 dropped by 47 percent from 2016 to 69 break-ins, according to data provided by the Santa Clara County Sheriff Office.

Kumar based the framework of Saratoga’s citywide Neighborhood Safety Watch program on the one he launched in his own neighborhood.

“When there was a break-in that occurred back in 2004, I started researching, talking to folks to figure out what would make my neighborhood safer,” Kumar said. “I came up with a simple plan: safety deterrents coupled with a Neighborhood Safety Watch program.”

Today, the process for registering a group to receive a Neighborhood Watch Grant is relatively simple. It requires groups to define their boundaries, acquire signatures from a majority of households in the area, determine how members will communicate and hold an orientation meeting with the Sheriff’s Office. The final step is to register online. Saratoga currently has more than 70 Neighborhood Watch groups certified with the city.

Many of these these groups have email lists or other forms of communication organized under a block captain. For example, shortly after two burglaries on Lexington Court, the local block captain sent out an email warning residents in the area. Though these watch groups may have been a factor in the  the significant drop in the crime rate, Kumar thinks more can be done.

“I am in favor of surveillance cameras in neighborhoods that will monitor the ingress and egress points [of properties],” Kumar said. “Personally, I want to see every part of Saratoga, every street under a Neighborhood Safety Watch program.”