Five Bay Area cities, including San Jose, will split $3.75 million from the state to increase coordination among law enforcement agencies tackling the escalating scourge of smash-and-grab car burglaries in the region.
Leaders in the Fremont, Milpitas, Newark, Santa Clara and San Jose police departments say their cities have each seen a significant uptick in auto break-ins recently and they’ve been working together to solve it. But thanks to Assemblymember Kansen Chu, who convinced the Budget Committee to send the money to his district, police officials say they hope to reverse the trend — and start driving down the numbers.
“In 26 years, I’ve never had this level of support from an Assemblymember — $750,000 is significant — and we thank him for that,” said San Jose Police Deputy Chief of Investigations Shawny Williams. “It’s going to go a long way.”
Williams said San Jose had 6,646 car break-ins last year. That’s a 22% increase over the last five years.
Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers said his officers have had some success reducing the number of car burglaries this year. But the scale of that achievement is relative to size the problem. Sellers said at the beginning of the year car burglaries were up by 125%, but a recent push has reduced the increase to 94% — still nearly double from the same time period the previous year.
So far in 2019 Santa Clara has averaged 7 to 8 reported auto burglaries per day, the chief said.
“It’s something that we need to fix sooner rather than later,” said Santa Clara Councilman Raj Chahal. “To me, it’s not only a law and order problem. To some extent it is on our leaders to emphasize how badly this reflects on the community.”
In Milpitas, where Assemblymember Chu held a news conference announcing the funding Friday, Chief of Police Armando Corpuz says there’s been a 35% increase in car break-ins from January to June — emphasizing that what is stolen is often priceless to the people who lose it.
“We’ve seen victims who are losing property that is irreplaceable,” Corpuz said. “We’ve seen individuals who have lost photos of loved ones. We’ve seen people in the high-tech industry that have projects they are working on for their employers lose their work when their computers get stolen.”
Officials from every city said the burglaries are more costly for the victims than profitable for the thieves. And the problem has gotten so out of hand, some officials say, that it affects everyone.
“It is resulting in fear,” said Fremont Vice Mayor Salwan said. “It is causing people to lose sleep. There’s the frustration of having to deal with their insurance companies and the invasion of their personal privacy.”
Last year, Fremont Police busted an alleged gang of thieves they say stole thousands of computers, smartphones and other electronics in smash-and-grab burglaries across the Bay Area and shipped them overseas for resale.
“It was a very intricate and organized crime spree that produced millions and millions of dollars using stolen laptops, cell phones and electronic equipment,” Captain Sean Washington said. “So these kinds of crimes are profitable, and we have to make it as uncomfortable as possible for these criminals because its impacts are severe.”
Some of the $750,000 each department will receive will go toward what Washington called apprehension — actually busting the bad guys who do the crime. And some of it will also be used to purchase equipment like cameras for parking lots that don’t already have them and license plate readers to help police investigate burglaries after they occur.
But Washington and law enforcement officials from other cities emphasized the importance of prevention — not leaving valuables in an unattended vehicle, which is what attracts the bad guys in the first place.
“Community education in preventing burglaries is critical,” said Milpitas Police Chief Corpuz, adding that last month his department disseminated thousands of flyers in shopping centers with the most burglaries.
“Our message to community members is to lock your property, take it with you or leave it at home,” he said.
TIP: To protect yourself from a car break-in, law enforcement warns never leave valuables in your car. But if you leave a smartphone, laptop or tablet device that emits a bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal in your car, police say you should lock it in the trunk and put it in Airplane mode so would be thieves can’t target you using your own devices.
Contact Adam F. Hutton at email@example.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.