Take Precautions Before Vacation, SMPD Warns

With kids out of school, the summer heat rising and any number of vacation destinations beckoning, an annual rite appears to be occurring in San Marino: the exodus. Sometimes it feels as if the entire community empties out between now and the middle of August.
Waiting behind and keeping an eye on things, however, is the San Marino Police Department, and it wants to make sure that residents button things up and protect their properties before embarking on their trips.
“I think people have to be more active and involved in this type of thing,” Police Chief John Incontro said. He urges “multiple layers of protection — that kind of attention can keep something from happening.”
It is particularly important in a community such as San Marino, which has large, deep lots and abundant greenery. “Most of the homes here have a certain degree of privacy based on landscaping, fences,” Incontro said. “We’re not on top of each other. So people don’t hear noises or see things.”
So arranging for multiple sets of eyes, or degrees of monitoring, is essential in discouraging burglars. Specifically:
• Vacation checks. For a cost of $5 per day, residents can arrange to have an SMPD employee stop by their house on a daily basis while they are away. This person will check the exterior of the house for security concerns and also pick up any accumulated mail or newspapers. The service can be arranged by calling the police station at (626) 300-0720.
• Find a neighbor, a friend or a relative who can drop by the house from time to time. Though people in this community often prize their seclusion, it doesn’t hurt to get to know the people next door or across the street. If neighbors are told in advance that no one is authorized to pull into the driveway, they can readily alert the police if an unfamiliar car or van is seen there.
• Having lights and music turn on and off can give the impression that someone is home. Simple timers can be purchased at hardware retailers, but there are also smartphone apps that enable homeowners to use WiFi to remotely control lights and other electronics in their houses while they are away.
• Make sure a home alarm is in good working order — and activated — before leaving town. Incontro is a strong advocate of home surveillance cameras. Ever-more-sophisticated technology is also proving to be a friend of residents who want to remotely monitor their properties. Security camera views can be watched on a smartphone or tablet. Another option is a video doorbell security system. It uses a motion sensor, a video camera, a microphone and a speaker and alerts residents on their smartphone when someone has walked up to the front door. The homeowner can then see video of the person and converse as if via intercom system from inside the house: “I’m not interested. Go away now or I’ll call the police.” This can foil the “knock-knock” burglary technique in which a thief inquires at the front door and, if no one responds, slips around back and breaks in through a door or window.
• For extended absences, Incontro suggests that residents find a housesitter. If there are no immediate candidates among friends or relatives (a nomadic college student, for example), there are organizations that can provide a trustworthy individual to look after a home — and, in many cases, pets. A number of such services can be found with a web search. Some services provide housesitters who are bonded and subjected to law enforcement background checks.
Residential burglaries are trending up slightly in San Marino. There were 51 in 2014. The next year, following the passage of Proposition 47, which facilitated the release of certain criminals convicted of nonviolent offenses, San Marino’s number of residential burglaries climbed to 59. Already this year, through six months, there have been 41 break-ins.
Law enforcement officials in surrounding communities have seen even greater jumps in property crimes. They and Incontro eye with concern the potential passage of Proposition 57, which has qualified for the Nov. 8 election through the efforts of Gov. Jerry Brown. It will offer earlier parole for particular offenders in an effort to reduce overcrowding in California’s prisons.
With the sense that criminals are more active in San Marino — and that more of them are on the loose — San Marino police are relying on multiple resources in an effort to thwart them.
The new fiscal year budget, for example, earmarked $5,500 for the department’s use of BAIR Analytics software. It will help the SMPD track crime patterns, which will be plotted on a map. If there are upticks in certain areas at particular times, the department can change its deployments accordingly. Police will also be able to share information with surrounding agencies using the same system.
Further, the SMPD has been making more use of the Pasadena police helicopter to monitor areas of San Marino where burglary incidents have increased.
But Incontro also believes one of the most important crime fighters at his disposal is the citizen who peers out a window or monitors something fishy happening down the street. When he mingles with the public, he borrows a slogan from the federal Department of Homeland Security: See something, say something.
“We’ve had a couple of neighbors who didn’t feel good about what they saw, but they thought, ‘We’ll just wait and see what happens,’” Incontro said. “It’s really important that if neighbors see something — if it doesn’t seem right, it’s out of the norm — to give us a call. Let us verify it.”

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