SMPD Alters Tactics After Wave of Burglaries

Exasperated by a surge in burglaries in the last week, San Marino Police Chief John Incontro wants to employ an eye in the sky to foil the crooks.
San Marino has an arrangement with the Pasadena Police Department for use of its helicopter, for which the city will pay $13,019 in the current fiscal year. To this point, it has been deployed primarily in the pursuit of fleeing suspects. But now the SMPD wants to use the chopper on the front end of crime: for surveillance.
“The helicopter will be around a little more in the afternoon and early evening hours,” Incontro said. “It will help us to be a second set of eyes. It’s been effective for the Sheriff’s Department and the [Los Angeles Police Department].”
The chief stressed that it will not be circling noisily over one spot, disturbing the serenity of a neighborhood, but rather will be crisscrossing the city with officers on board looking for suspicious activity.
The decision comes after San Marino experienced eight burglaries last week, which Incontro said “really got to me.”
The incidents occurred throughout the city, primarily from Wednesday through Friday in the time windows of 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. The burglars reportedly drove late-model vehicles — Toyota Camrys, Mercedes-Benz sedans. “It’s not as if they’re driving beat-up cars,” Incontro said.
He added that the modus operandi is that they will seek out unoccupied homes. Typically, they will knock on the front door to see if anyone is home and, if not, go around back and break a sliding glass door or window to get inside.
They also strike quickly. Police believe a house alarm will result in a notification to a homeowner within two minutes, with another two minutes required to get a call in to the police. The SMPD’s response time is about two minutes. So, “you come in real quick with two of them,” Incontro said of the burglars, “sweep the inside looking for small items, things of value, and you’re out the front door. That’s pretty common everywhere we go and in talking to all of my peers, the other chiefs [in Southern California]. It’s pretty much the norm.”
One San Marino burglary victim developed another theory. She and her husband’s home alarm is tied to their land phone line. When her house was hit in a daylight burglary by six men on Sept. 14, her phone was repeatedly called (she did not answer) just before one of the burglars made entry. Her presence scared him and his compatriots off, but she speculated that her unlisted phone number and address were found online, and the burglars called to tie up the line so that a notification could not go to the alarm company. Had the answering machine picked up, she surmised, the burglars would have let it run, engaging the line until they were finished. She advises residents to disable their answering machines when they’re away.
“They were very smart, very organized,” said the woman, who asked that her name and street not be published. “It was like a tactical team coming in here.”
Incontro reiterated his plea to the community to be his department’s eyes and ears. “If you see something, say something,” he said.
The Police Department can be reached at (626) 300-0720.

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