So, Officer, I Have a Few Questions to Ask You

The two San Marino residents swung by the Starbucks at Huntington Drive and San Marino Avenue early last Friday morning, seeking a cop rather than a cappuccino.
One, Greg Burdick, had had his house burglarized early this month when he stepped out during the day for a couple of hours. The other, William Hasbun, didn’t want to be next.
They’d come to the right place. San Marino Police Chief John Incontro has initiated a program called “Coffee With a Cop,” during which he and his officers plan to meet periodically with local citizens at varying locations throughout the city. It’s intended to be an informal gathering, giving the department an opportunity to field people’s questions related to local law enforcement.
At the first of these, the prevalent topic of inquiry was clear, and perhaps predictable: residential burglaries in the city.
“We wanted to know if there was a pattern — day of the week, time of day,” Burdick said.
Standing next to him, Hasbun interjected, “There are all kinds of little factors that go into why someone would want to rob this house on this street and not that house on that street. And that all has to do with the fact they [the burglars] are watching, so we have to be watching them as well.”
Lt. Aaron Blondé, standing on the sidewalk out front, suggested the formation of a Neighborhood Watch group. Incontro advocated for installing a security system — and making sure it was on — as well as “getting to know your neighbors.”
The SMPD had seven officers participating in “Coffee With a Cop,” from command staff to detectives to patrol officers. Incontro stressed he hadn’t pulled anyone off the day shift out in the field. Some officers had stayed late after their shifts, or come in just for this.
“Coffee With a Cop” started with the Hawthorne Police Department, the chief said, but has spread in popularity. “It’s a great idea,” he continued. “It gives us more interaction with the community.”
The San Marino police have scheduled town hall-type meetings to discuss local safety and Neighborhood Watch, but those are often held on weeknights at the library, and getting people to come can be challenging. In this instance, essentially, the police were going to the people, visiting an establishment that is a hive of activity at 7 a.m. on a weekday. Officers chatted up business people heading off to work, young people en route to summer school and retirees gathering for social interaction.
Rather than harp about parking tickets or ticky-tack moving violations or noisy neighbors or speeding commuters, citizens zeroed in on the burglaries, which are often conducted in broad daylight when people are away at work.
“That hits closest to home with anyone we’re going to talk to,” said Detective Bryan Wong. “We’ve talked about getting to know neighbors, but there can be obstacles to that, sometimes language, sometimes cultural — ‘I want to be a private person. That’s why I moved here.’”
Some of the residents concluded that the police are holding up their end in suppressing burglars in San Marino, but perhaps the next coffee should be hosted by Assemblyman Ed Chau or state Sen. Carol Liu. Throughout the state, crime has spiked in the wake of the passage in 2014 of Proposition 47, which sought to reduce crowding in California’s jails and prisons by reducing punishments for nonviolent offenders.
San Diego Police Shelley Zimmerman lamented to the Washington Post that Prop. 47’s provisions amount to a “virtual get-out-of-jail-free card” for criminals, and remarked that officers find they’re arresting the same suspects over and over.
Burdick said the burglary of his house was thought to be a “knock-knock” incident, in which someone comes to the front door and, if no one answers, slips around back and smashes a sliding glass door.
“The gal next door is afraid to leave her 12-year-old son home alone,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to live like that. We shouldn’t accept it. And that’s a political issue [because of Prop. 47].”
Burdick looked toward Hasbun and added, “We’ve both been here 30 years. I don’t even have an alarm system.
“I never saw the need.”

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