Known for its physical beauty and mild year-round climate, San Diego County, California suffered considerably from the housing bubble and the “crash” of 2008. The good news: the local real estate market is gradually coming back, with new home sales recently reported at a two-year monthly high. The bad news: residential crime has skyrocketed.
More homes were burglarized in the first three months of this year than the same time period the year before, and authorities said they have yet to pin down the reason. Residential burglaries were up a startling 124 percent in Escondido between Jan. 1 and March 31 of this year over the same three months in 2011 (or up 38 percent from the same period in 2010), according to county statistics. The crimes were up 100 percent in Ramona (or 41 percent from 2010), and 71 percent in San Marcos (1 percent from 2010).
Wow: year-over-year increases of 124%, 100% and 71%! No wonder these burglary stats made the news.
Behind the Numbers
Law enforcement officers said last week that they had not identified any single driving factor behind the increases. Authorities said they were concerned that a new law aimed at driving down prison populations and a lack of public awareness and participation in promoting public safety could be among the reasons for the increase. “When know when opportunity is there and the chance of being caught is lower, (burglary) can go up,” Escondido police Lt. Mike Loarie said last week.
Burglars May Feel Safe
There are several reasons criminals may think they won’t get caught for burglarizing homes, according to an article titled “Burglary of Single-Family Houses,” published by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, a nonprofit organization aimed at educating law enforcement officers. Up to 50 percent of residential burglaries go unreported nationwide, according to the article. Of those that are reported to police, about 65 percent produce no clues to help police solve the crimes. Police solve an average 14 percent of the crimes. “Given the low burglary reporting rates … low clearance rates (about 1 in 8 reported offenses are cleared), and low conviction rates (about two-thirds of offenses result in a conviction), the chance of a burglar’s getting caught and sentenced is about 5 percent,” the article said.
Impact of Recent California Law
And a new state law may make it more difficult to keep burglars who are sentenced behind bars, authorities said. The law is known as Assembly Bill 109, or “realignment.” It forces county jails to hold on to some of the inmates who previously would have gone to state prisons. The law, which went into effect in January, sends criminals convicted of nonviolent and less-serious crimes, including some felonies, to serve their sentence in jail instead of state prison.
Confronted with near-capacity jail populations, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has announced plans to use what it calls “alternatives to custody,” or releasing lowest-level criminals to make room for more dangerous inmates. The department will use a combination of house arrest, GPS ankle bracelets, work furloughs and other programs to monitor inmates who would otherwise still be in custody, officials have said. Authorities said they didn’t have enough data to know for sure how —- or if —- the law has affected crime, but some said they were concerned.
Drugs and Property Crime
Authorities said they were especially concerned about property crime because much of it is committed by drug offenders —- a group that could spend less time behind bars under realignment. “For the last 20, 30 years, we’ve been arresting drug users and putting them in jail, and they stay in jail for as long as they stay in,” said Capt. Mike Barnett of the San Diego County Sheriff’s San Marcos Station. “Realignment has altered that. We still arrest them, and we still put them in jail, but they’re not doing as much time as they were before, and when they’re not in custody many of them are committing more crimes.”
A Multifaceted Problem
Burglars, once convicted, tend to have a higher rate of further arrests and convictions than all other property offenders, according to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing report. They can also be prolific, burglarizing up to two homes per week. Burglars also do not limit their criminal activity to burglary, research has shown. They tend to commit a wide range of property, drug-related and violent crimes. Researchers have found that burglars are motivated by “need —- sometimes desperate —- to get quick cash, often for drugs or alcohol,” according to the article. Substance abuse can lead to unemployment, which can cause financial problems burglars may turn to crime to solve. Heroin abuse has been closely associated with burglary, according to the article.
It Takes a Village
Efforts to control residential burglary work best when police and residents work together, research has shown. Along with increased police presence in vulnerable neighborhoods, investigation, and crime analysis, police said they have been encouraging residents to keep their homes secure and report suspicious activity as soon as they see it.
Along with immediately reporting suspicious activity, residents in the Twin Oaks Valley neighborhood were also improving security at their homes, said Bill Madaras, a homeowner in the neighborhood. “It’s good to be vigilant, and like the police say, they’d rather come out for something suspicious when maybe it’s nothing than have nobody call them at all and take a bit of a risk in not doing something.”
Police have been reaching out to residents through community meetings to help raise public awareness, and knocking on doors to warn residents when they see obvious security issues such as garage doors left open in the middle of the night, Loarie said. Oceanside police handed out fliers and went door to door to warn people at apartment complexes where four homes were burglarized earlier this month, said Lt. Joe Young. In each burglary, criminals got inside through unlocked or open windows and doors. “If there have been others (crimes) that have gone unreported, we want to know,” Young said. “But mainly we want to make sure they’re aware that this is happening.”
It still amazes me how many burglars gain entry into homes through unlocked doors and windows. In fact, we know exactly where burglars are mostly likely to break in. But then again, I’m also still trying to figure out why only one in five US homes has a monitored alarm system, with a burglary occurring every 14 seconds!
In many jurisdictions, police also remind residents to arm their alarms systems – and to consider getting one if they haven’t already done so. Since the latest home security offerings (like FrontPoint) include safer cellular monitoring, advanced interactive features, and even home automation, there is more reason than ever to make the modest investment now.
As always, it makes sense to do everything you can so your home is not a target. Follow FrontPoint’s Top Ten Home Security Tips – including installing a monitored alarm system. Your peace of mind is worth a lot, and there’s nothing more important than protecting your home and family. And that’s where FrontPoint comes in: the leader in wireless home security, and the #1 ranked home alarm company in the US. When you are ready for safer, smarter, simpler, more affordable, and virtually impossible to defeat, FrontPoint is your clear choice – all across the US.