Photo By: Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Ten-dollar bills landed in the grass and bushes, left and top right, across from Comerica Bank on Third Street in Los Altos after a robber beat a hasty retreat last week. Los Altos Police, top center and bottom right, responded to the call and searched an adjacent property, guns drawn. The suspect remains at large. For details, see Police Blotter on page 4.
Although Los Altos recently received a safe-city designation, the police chief said last week that the rash of recent robberies proves his department still has work to do.
The city announced last week that Location Inc. recently designated Los Altos as the 23rd-safest in the nation, based on 2011 uniformed crime reports from the FBI. Location Inc. – which offers online location data including crime rates, home values, school quality and more – annually publishes a list of the top 100 safest cities in the country. This year’s list also includes nearby Cupertino and Saratoga.
Los Altos Police Chief Tuck Younis said that while he was honored to receive the recognition, this is no time to rest on laurels. He pointed specifically to three downtown bank robberies in the past month, in addition to the armed robbery of a First Street liquor store earlier this year. In 2012, he said, the city experienced just five robberies throughout the entire year.
“While we’re extremely proud of this designation, we realize that we still have crime occurring,” Younis said. “There are still victims out there – we still have an obligation to protect our city and residents. … Having these bank robberies occurring so close together is very concerning to us.”
A statewide problem
Younis, who recently attended the annual California Police Chiefs Association conference, said the spate of Los Altos crimes mirrors what his counterparts in other California cities are seeing. Overall, he noted, crime – particularly those violent in nature – appears to be on the rise in throughout the state.
When asked what factors are leading to the increase in crime, Younis pointed to a “multitude of reasons,” including prison realignment.
Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, Assembly Bill 109 shifts incarceration of several types of low-risk inmates from the state to the county level. The shift transferred many low-level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons, often resulting in shorter sentences because of overcrowding and other problems.
The historical thinking that the economy “ebbs and flows” as crime does, however, does not appear to play a large factor in recent crime rates locally, according to Younis, who noted that communities like Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto are often targeted due to their affluence.
He added that several larger cities are experiencing shrinking public safety budgets, leaving law enforcement agencies short on key personnel – including parole officers – to stay on top of parolees.
Those challenges, Younis said, have had a trickle-down effect on smaller surrounding cities.
“Across the board, communities are seeing the impact of those decisions,” he said. “Most of the people committing these crimes are not from Los Altos, but larger communities.”
In the meantime, Younis said the department has increased patrols – including those in unmarked police vehicles – throughout the city, using its predictive policing strategy to focus on areas where crimes are more likely to occur.
Younis encouraged residents to proactively contact police when witnessing any suspicious activity – even if it appears minor at first glance.
“We are safe and we did get the recognition, he said, “but at the end of the day, there are crimes occurring and will still have to address those issues.”