Coronavirus

In Los Altos, bad guys keeping their distance, too

Los Altos residents are not only doing better with their social distancing – the crooks are apparently staying home, too. 

Police Chief Andy Galea said Friday that overall crime in the city was down 8% over 2019. Burglaries dropped 38% over last year, he said – plummeting 69% since the first shelter-in-place order took effect March 16. In a statement Monday, local health officers who authored the order announced it will be extended through May. More details are set to come later this week.

Galea said regular police patrols have deterred suspects.

Participating in a “Chat with the Chief” webinar April 24, Galea noted residents are getting better at following the rules.

“As time goes on, people are becoming more aware,” he said. “There is more social pressure to follow the guidelines (issued by) the health officer.”

Galea said officers are receiving more calls for service since the order, but they are related to the stay-at-home directives and social distancing rather than reporting criminal activity such as commercial burglaries and vehicle thefts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes in protocols and work patterns for the police force, according to Galea. Officers are working seven days straight, are off for the next seven days and then are on standby for the following seven days in case additional enforcement is needed during one of their off-shifts. Vehicles are sanitized at the end of each week, he said.

The only service the department is not offering residents at this time is front-desk assistance, as the lobby at the police station is closed to minimize personal contact.

“This is a dangerous profession,” Galea said. “But this is a new type of danger. … We adapt.”

As of Friday, the agency had logged 309 reports of potential health order violations. The most frequent violations surround residential construction, landscaping and people misunderstanding the parameters of social distancing, Galea said. While several residents questioned why landscaping work was restricted, Galea and Los Altos emergency preparedness coordinator Ann Hepenstal reminded webinar viewers that it was not their place to debate restrictions designed by those focused on saving lives.

Galea noted that traffic violations have picked up, as fewer cars on the road have spurred some motorists to speed or barrel through stop signs.

“Our officers are out there enforcing traffic laws and we are issuing citations, so if someone is under the incorrect impression that we aren’t giving tickets, they are wrong,” he said.

When asked how long the public will be required to shelter in place, Galea repeated the words of Gov. Gavin Newsom: “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

“We are all starting to think about how things could and may open up,” he added, “but ultimately (Santa Clara County health officer) Sara Cody is going to give the most guidance on the whats and hows.”

For more information on the Los Altos Police Department’s modified services, visit bit.ly/2VyXAwg.

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