Los Altos Hills recognized for low crime rate

Byrne Preserve
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Visitors of Byrne Preserve in Los Altos Hills enjoy clear skies and sun rays Saturday.

Los Altos Hills is the third-safest small city in California, a recent survey of FBI crime data reveals.

AdvisorSmith, a business insurance research company, bestowed a metaphorical bronze medal on the Hills in a report published Dec. 15. The town fell short of fellow Bay Area locations Monte Sereno, in first place overall, and Tiburon, in second place. Monte Sereno is also considered the safest city of any size in the state, according to AdvisorSmith.

Michelle Wu said Los Altos Hills’ high ranking doesn’t surprise her. Wu served as town mayor up until Dec. 17, when she stepped down and the council elected Councilmember Kavita Tankha to the post.

“I’ve lived here for 24 years, and it’s always been one of the safest places to live,” Wu said. “You know, Los Altos Hills is a small bedroom community. There’s no attraction to out-of-towners except to families and friends. People just don’t come here.”

And Monte Sereno, Wu pointed out, has a much smaller population than Los Altos Hills (3,427 residents versus 8,423 residents, according to 2019 U.S. Census data).

These honors are a bit dubious anyway. Although based on real data, companies fishing for publicity often present research findings to publications known for covering the cities ranked highest by said data; earlier this year, a mattress review company named Sleepopolis dubbed Los Altos Hills the top city in the entire country for sleep.

This time around, the analysis was based on Uniform Crime Reporting information cities and law enforcement agencies submitted to the FBI in 2019. AdvisorSmith divided 460 California cities into three categories by population: small (under 10,000 people); midsize (between 10,000 and 100,000); and large (above 100,000). Analysts assigned a multiplier to different types of crime based on their severity and then multiplied that number by the number of reported crimes in each city. They arrived at a “crime score” after making adjustments based on the number of months the city reported data and the city’s population.

Among 92 small cities, Monte Sereno earned a 5.3, Tiburon earned a 10.5 and Los Altos Hills earned a 11.5. Among 294 midsize cities, Los Altos (population 30,089 as of 2019) ranked No. 16 with a score of 15.8, and Mountain View (population 82,739 as of 2019) ranked No. 166 with a score of 45.5.

Vigilant residents

In general, Los Altos Hills crime rates seem to be holding pretty steady across most categories of crime or trending downward, said Capt. Rich Urena, head of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office West Valley Division, the town’s contracted service provider.

“When we talk about crime in the town, we’re really talking about property crime,” he said. “If you talk about violent crime, it’s just about nonexistent in town, which is something that we’re proud of.”

Sheriff’s Office crime data for Los Altos Hills is thus far available through Nov. 30. Residents didn’t report any robberies in 2020 or 2019, but they reported two in 2018. Deputies investigated 26 burglaries in 2020, 21 in 2019 and 25 in 2018. There were eight reported incidents of mail theft in 2020, 17 in 2019 and eight in 2018.

Local vandalism, however, is trending upward, with 13 incidents reported through Nov. 30, nine reported in 2019 and five reported in 2018.

The majority of vandalism cases in Los Altos Hills involve mail boxes or vehicles damaged during attempted thefts and burglaries, Urena said.

The captain attributes Los Altos Hills’ low crime rate to vigilant residents who report suspicious activity, weekly crime reports that keep residents and law enforcement officials aware of trends and council members’ willingness to allocate additional financial resources to tackle specific problems. Recently, for example, town leaders signed off on covert patrols involving deputies cruising around in unmarked vehicles not traditionally associated with law enforcement, like minivans and even sports cars.

“We have had a great relationship with the residents of Los Altos Hills all these many years,” Urena said. “So I think this relationship has really fostered this understanding that we’re here to support (them), to call us anytime they need anything from the Sheriff’s Office. … All the things we’ve been doing have really helped address some of the spikes we’ve seen of crime in the past and present.”

Whether her town is amassing accolades as the “richest” in America, courtesy of financial news company 24/7 Wall St. in 2018 and 2019, or as the “most fiscally healthy” in the state, courtesy of the California State Auditor in 2019, Wu is pleased about the attention.

“I’m just very happy to hear the news about how great this town is, and hopefully we will continue to keep up with all the great news,” she said.

Read the full AdvisorSmith study here.

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