When Homeowners Are Away, Sheriff’s Dept. is Watching

The Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station had 13 Special Patrol Requests last week from La Cañada Flintridge residents who were out of town and asked that deputies check on their properties.
In the first week of summer, it figured there were more than 13 households whose inhabitants were away.
Capt. Bill Song suggested that more people accept his department’s offer to help with house-sitting. “We have volunteers on patrol, as well as [deputies in] black-and-whites, who go out and do vacation checks each shift, so please let us know,” he said.
Those who did call in or stop by the station had their information transferred to index-card-sized request forms, three of which were with Deputy Eric Matejka as he cruised through town last week to make checks.
The first house was under construction, but it was the scene of a recent burglary of tools. Matejka got out of his car, glanced at the hard-working construction crew on site and determined everything was as it should be.
On his way to check on the next two homes, he talked about the practice of vacation checks. They’re done by deputies and by the 10 regular volunteers on duty, some of whom will go so far as to pick up newspapers from driveways so it’s not obvious the home is vacant.
(Instead of counting on Sheriff’s personnel to do so, Matejka suggests it’s better for homeowners to put a hold on their newspapers and mail.)
“It’s like having another security company,” he said. “They’re out there patrolling. They get a lot more resources because they have us to back them up right away, and all our technology.”
When he arrived at his second empty home, atop a hill overlooking the city, Matejka tried three gates in front of the home before one opened, and he strolled in. He tried the front door first to make sure it was locked before peering in the windows near it.
The door was locked and the coast was clear.
Then Matejka circled around, stopping to peer in the home’s other large windows, check on a side door and closely inspect a torn screen, which appeared to innocent.
If Matejka were to find a door unlocked, which usually indicates its inhabitants had been in a hurry to leave, he locks it. If he finds a door open, he calls for backup.
“If it’s wide open, or even just open, we’ll bring other deputies in,” he said, adding that residents should prefer a deputy notice a window or door ajar before a passerby does. “And if we find that, we’ll go in, go through the whole house,” he added.
Sometimes, he says, deputies and volunteers won’t just get out and look at the house, but they’ll park in front of it and do paperwork. Just their presence is a deterrent, Matejka said.
After a full lap around the home on the hill, Matejka closed the gate and got back in his car and looked to see what was next in his cards.
The last stop was a ranch-style home a few blocks away, where Matejka went through the same drill, parking in the driveway — where a black coupe was already parked. It matched the description provided on the card of what he might expect to find, but he still checked to see if the car’s engine was warm. It wasn’t.
Before finishing his check, Matejka returned to the door for a second look because he saw something that seemed off. He thought he saw markings on the frame of the door, as if someone might have tried to pry it open.
Then he remembered — this door had, in fact, been pried open during a burglary some months back. The marks were real evidence, but they were old.
It was an example of the type of detail Matejka and his colleagues look for when they make their checks, which also can alert absent residents to water or gas leaks at their properties.
Or, as Mayor Jonathan Curtis put it: “I think people would probably rather have a call that’s a mistaken call than no call at all.”
Residents requesting checks leave a number that can be called in emergency situations. They also provide information about who might be expected at the home, when and what kind of car they will be driving.
“They’re easy to fill out,” Song promised.
Also, Matejka added, he and his colleagues are eager to do these checks.
“It’s good. We can get our volunteers out, and they always want to stay busy,” he said.

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