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‘We can’t arrest our way out of this’

8.21.2014 LAHCouncil2 CaptainKenBinder-8134
Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Anne DeGheest speaks at a crowded Los Altos Hills City Council meeting that included a report on the recent spikes in burglaries.

Sheriff's Office, LAH residents collaborate to stop burglaries

It wasn’t the type of surprise Joe Yang wanted to wake up to – the sound of two burglars in his Stirrup Way home in Los Altos Hills.

“I’m either lucky or unlucky,” said Yang, who described thwarting the burglary attempt to town residents who packed Thursday’s Los Altos Hills City Council meeting.

The break-in at Yang’s home brings the number of burglaries in Los Altos Hills to 34 this year – exceeding the 10-year annual average of 28.3. Unlike the other 33, the Yang home was occupied at the time.

According to Yang, two intruders – who may have accessed his home via an unlocked back door – entered the first floor of the residence and began shouting fake police calls to determine whether anyone was home. When the burglars reached the second floor, they encountered Yang and attempted to attack him. Yang said the unarmed criminals fled when he reached into a drawer for a knife. Separated from his mobile phone, Yang said he was unable to summon the Sheriff’s Office before the burglars escaped.

“These burglaries grieve us. … We want to catch the bad guys,” said Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Capt. Ken Binder. “Every burglary is like a little knife to our inside.”

Emerging trends

In an update to the community at Thursday’s meeting, Binder reported that the Sheriff’s Office has added patrol cars, undercover units, investigators and technology including license plate scanners to its arsenal in recent months. He listed several emerging trends: Burglars appear to be working in groups of two to three, and all burglaries over the past two months occurred on weekdays, the majority between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

When burglaries occur, Binder said sheriffs respond within nine to 14 minutes and collect fingerprints, surveillance footage and other evidence on-site. With the capability of comparing fingerprints to those amassed in databases recording recent arrests and the names of parolees, fingerprinting has been a particularly effective method for solving the crimes. With an in-house investigation team, Binder said they have achieved a clearance rate of 40 percent, a figure much higher than the FBI’s national average of 28.1 percent arrests for burglaries.

While the arrests of 12 burglars associated with Los Altos Hills property crimes in the past year may provide some peace of mind for burglarized homeowners, Binder said “we can’t arrest our way out of this.”

Short gaps in property break-ins generally follow each arrest, Binder added, but other unscrupulous individuals quickly replace them.

Preventive measures

As obvious as it may sound, Binder pleaded with residents to immediately report suspicious activity in their neighborhoods to 911. He cited several successful collaborative efforts between residents and law enforcement, including a pullover that resulted in the arrest of a suspect who had a burglary tool in his car.

“Even if we had 60 deputies, there are a lot of streets we can’t be on,” Binder said. “It’s a little bit of luck, but we can increase luck if neighbors make calls.”

Home video surveillance footage has proven a valuable tool for deterring and catching criminals. One resident who lives on a cul-de-sac where three of the four homes were burglarized recently said the Sheriff’s Office circulated two surveillance photos of unknown suspects pacing the perimeter of the home online and on social media within 24 hours of submission.

Councilman Rich Larsen urged residents to organize – just as his neighborhood did after a flurry of burglaries.

“There was nothing like the sense of real fear that was happening, and we covered it,” he said. “We’re still very watchful, but we established a very strong neighborhood watch group that checks on any vehicle that goes through our neighborhood.”

Binder endorsed communications among neighbors in person and online, but he said residents should make the Sheriff’s Office their first point of contact with any potential evidence or information.

“Nextdoor.com is very helpful,” said Binder of the popular online neighborhood networking site. “We like the fact that residents are communicating among themselves, but if there is fear and concern, unless someone forwards it to us, we don’t know.”

To help residents assess the strengths and weaknesses of their security systems, Binder announced the launch of a pilot home security walk-around program. Residents interested in scheduling a home inspection can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The Sheriff’s Office has scheduled a second Crime Prevention Forum 6-8 p.m. Sept. 10 at town hall.

To report suspicious activity in Los Altos Hills, call 911 or (408) 299-2311 (nonemergency). For public safety alerts and updated burglary information from the Sheriff’s Office, visit losaltoshills.ca.gov and click “Public Safety Alerts.”


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