Non-violent theft, or larceny, is a crime on the rise locally and police think they know why — the perpetrators, even if caught, risk light punishment.
The latest trend sweeping San Mateo County is the so-called door-knock burglary in which criminals simply canvas neighborhoods and knock on doors to see if anyone is home. If someone is home, they move on, but if not, they find a way into the house through a rear door or window and make off with jewelry, electronic items or other valuables.
The crimes are taking place almost every day now in every part of San Mateo County. Affluent neighborhoods, however, such as in San Mateo or Hillsborough are targeted even more by criminals.
In the past couple of months, door-knock burglaries in both cities have sent police on high-speed chases that ended in multiple arrests in Belmont and the arrest of another man who robbed a Hillsborough home who was nabbed later in San Francisco.
The San Mateo County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association has noted a great uptick in property crimes starting around the holidays in December, said San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer, also president of the local chiefs association.
In San Mateo, the city’s burglary rate was up 34 percent for January and February of this year, according to uniform crime reporting statistics sent to the FBI.
The year-to-year numbers are climbing as well as larceny spiked upward 12 percent from 2011 to 2012 and auto thefts climbed 4 percent during the same period, according to the San Mateo Police Department.
In 2010, the FBI estimates larceny alone cost its victims across the United States $6.1 billion.
Manheimer and other local police officials recently addressed the San Mateo Council of Cities to brief municipal elected officials on some of the reasons for the crime trends.
The reasons include:
• What were once brief spikes in crime are now longer trends of criminal activity;
• What used to be small suspect groups has now expanded to multiple “crews” working larger geographic areas such as multiple cities or the entire county;
• Low risk of long-term incarceration — since the change in realignment sentencing guidelines, property crimes such as vehicle and residential burglary only result in being sentenced to county jail rather than state prison;
• Ease of monetary return on small portable items — the price of gold is high and electronics items such as mobile phones, tablet computers and laptops are easily resold online;
• The Peninsula is a “target rich” environment with many upscale neighborhoods where both parents work, the children go to school and homes are unoccupied during the entire day.
The most disturbing trend, however, is the recruitment of juveniles, Manheimer said.
Crime crews are routinely using juveniles, such as high school dropouts, to commit crimes under the tutelage and direction of an adult, Manheimer said.
There is almost no risk of juvenile incarceration due to realignment, Manheimer said.
Police are taking a countywide look at the problem and in San Mateo they have saturated some neighborhoods with extra patrols to curb the activity or catch the crooks.
Police have enacted regional and countywide responses to the trend, Manheimer said.
There are also a number of shopping centers, theaters and downtown areas where expensive vehicles are parked and often leave valuable electronic items in plain view, Manheimer said. These become easy targets in unlocked vehicles and are visible enough to prompt a window-smash to locked vehicles, she said.
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