A trio of Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s deputies got an earful Monday morning from a La Cañada Flintridge resident who was offended they stopped him after receiving a tip about suspected mail theft.
“I matched the description of someone who’d been going through mailboxes — maroon T-shirt, black pants, about 55 years old,” said Gary Kwasniewski, who actually is 60 and who makes it a habit to walk from his home to the post office a few blocks away because he likes the exercise.
An attorney who’s lived in LCF since 2005, Kwasniewski said he’s been a victim of mail theft, but he didn’t appreciate the sudden appearance of two sheriff’s vehicles on his walk home, although he was impressed by the deputies’ professionalism during the encounter.
“I match a description? I didn’t even open my mailbox,” he said. “If someone saw me stopping and opening every mailbox I passed, OK; ‘See something, say something,’ sure — but they didn’t see it!
“You can’t live life with such fear, where you see a man walking down the street with envelopes in his hand and [call the police.]”
But Sgt. Alan Chu said he and his colleagues rely on those sorts of tips.
“It’s not personal,” Chu wrote in an email Monday. “Suspicious activity is perceived by an individual based on their own unique past experiences. What a person perceived as suspicious today may not have been suspicious a week ago.”
And, he added, those responding deputies were simply doing their jobs, which is “to determine if a crime occurred.”
“In this case,” Chu added, “they determined no crime occurred and let him go on his way.”
Local sheriff’s personnel are feeling pressure to reduce local crime. At last week’s City Council meeting, residents pleaded with city officials and local sheriff’s personnel to cut down on the burglaries and mail and identity theft that most often strike LCF.
While the city rarely experiences violent crime, Capt. Chris Blasnek said he understands residents’ frustration — and their fear.
“Zero homicides, zero rapes, where else can you go that doesn’t have those sorts of activities in L.A. County? But burglaries are just as important,” said Blasnek, who took over the post at the beginning of April. “When those people talked, I didn’t blame them. I’d be mad, too.
“We all go home and have family, kids, people to protect. I’ve been a victim of vehicle theft, identity theft and a robbery. I know that feeling of losing that everything-is-right-in-my-neighborhood feeling.”
Statistically, there has been an uptick in 2017, Blasnek said. Through March, he said there were 17 home burglaries in the city, more than the eight reported in that span last year but less than the 31 in that timeframe in 2015.
“This is not a La Cañada Flintridge problem. It’s all the other communities around us, too, and they’ve got wheels and they know the freeways,” said Blasnek, a critic of early release programs such as Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 57.
CRIME PREVENTION TIPS
But, La Cañada Flintridge residents, you can help him help you, Blasnek said.
“Think about protective measures,” he said. “I think about the same thing: I have locks and alarms, but what can I do better?”
How? Blasnek, Chu and Lt. Marjory Jacobs had no shortage of suggestions when they were asked last week.
Here’s a sampling of some of their ideas, most of which shared a theme — don’t make crime easy:
“First thing: If you’re leaving on vacation, order a vacation check,” Blasnek said.
Also, don’t leave newspapers in the driveway. Don’t post publicly online about plans to be away from home. Tell only trusted neighbors and your closest friends that you’re going, but definitely tell them. Use light variations in homes and in yards. And leave a car in the driveway to “make it look like someone might be home,” Blasnek added.
Also, arm your alarm system, and never assume an alarm is false.
“When the alarm company calls and says your alarm has been activated, don’t assume it was the cat or the dog or think, ‘I’m on my way home now, I’ll check it out.’ And please don’t tell them to cancel the call to the sheriff,” Blasnek said.
“Or,” Chu said, “have the alarm company call us first, because that gap of time is important in catching [suspects].”
Invest in motion sensors, including window-breaking sensors, Jacobs said. And don’t limit their use to the ground floor of a dwelling; install them in the backyard and upstairs, areas where thieves have been working lately.
There isn’t a law requiring us to keep valuables in the master bedroom, of course, and Blasnek suggested keeping them elsewhere in a house. And for anyone using a safe to store those important possessions: “Bolt the safe to the ground or concrete,” Blasnek said.
Businesses might consider leaving the empty cash register drawer open and in full display, Jacobs said.
“You’re not going to have any cash in there anyway, and they won’t ruin a $700 or $1,000 register looking for it,” she said. “Maybe they’ll even look in the window, see the drawer open and empty and move on?”
Investigate purchasing a product like Ring.com, a smart doorbell connected to an app that begins a video call with connected smartphones that allows residents to see and speak with whomever is at the door, whether or not they’re home.
The city’s Public Safety Commission has begun considering a program that could offer $100 (or a 50% discount) to LCF residents who purchase the Ring.com. Funding levels are to be determined, according to Carl Alameda, the city’s director of administrative services, but the pilot project being discussed, if it were approved, could serve 100 homes and cost $5,000, with the company contributing $50 and the city $50 to the residential discount.
“We have a great relationship with the City Council and the city manager,” Blasnek said. “They’re so supportive and they intend to do whatever we need to fight crime. And I hope I’ll have better news [soon].”
In the meantime, “be a part of the solution,” Jacobs said. “Let’s work together. And, it’s cliché, but it’s easy to remember: If you see something, say something.”
Kwasniewski, for one, would debate whether the sight of a neighbor walking to the post office constitutes “something.” But, Chu said, Capt. Blasnek “supports and encourages deputies to take a proactive [approach] in fighting crime,” including responding to those calls about suspected mail theft.