Noe Valley Voice February 2003

Rash of Home Burglaries Over the Holidays

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

Money--and lots of it--is buying people entry into Noe Valley's pricey real estate market, but it isn't necessarily buying them safety once they move into their new homes. In fact, if the recent holiday season is any indication, residential burglaries appear to be on the upsurge in the neighborhood.

According to statistics from the San Francisco Police Department, Noe Valley had 41 residential burglaries in November through December 2002--almost twice as many as the year before. (The area had 22 burglaries during the same two-month period in 2001.)

While the burglaries were well distributed throughout the neighborhood, the spike primarily occurred north of Cesar Chavez Street, in the part of Noe Valley covered by Mission Station. During the last two months of 2002, there were 33 break-ins, as compared with 15 the prior year.

The rest of Noe Valley--south of Cesar Chavez to 30th Street--which falls within the Ingleside Police District, recorded eight burglaries in November­December 2002, just one more than the year before.

The most burglaries in any one week (nine) occurred Dec. 15 to 21. Flats, apartments, and single-family homes on 24th, Jersey, Cesar Chavez, Dolores, Elizabeth, Church, Duncan, and Chattanooga streets all were hit by thieves.

The majority of the break-ins took place while residents were at work or away from home in the afternoon or evening. A few occurred while residents were out of town for a day or more. However, one thief took less than a hour to make off with two necklaces, a gold bracelet, a silver pocket watch, and a Canon digital camera from a flat in the 1400 block of Dolores Street. While the resident was out in the early afternoon, a thief entered her home through a 15-by-20-inch dog door.

In another incident, the owner of a home in the 400 block of 28th Street played citizen cop, apprehending a thief attempting to steal his $3,000 mountain bike from his open garage. During the midmorning incident, the homeowner wrestled the thief to the ground and detained him by sitting on top of him until the real police arrived. During booking at Ingleside Station, a criminal history check revealed that the suspect had been arrested six months earlier for burglary and possession of narcotics.

Mission Police Officer Lorraine Lombardo, whose beat is centered on 24th Street, says the evidence so far points to no particular suspect or group of suspects. The SFPD's Crime Scene Investigations unit has been notified in only a handful of cases, she says, because of the lack of physical evidence (many residents inadvertently wiped off fingerprints or otherwise disturbed the scene of the crime before calling police). However, all of the recent burglary cases have been assigned to the SFPD's Burglary Detail.

Lombardo believes the rise in burglaries in Noe Valley is due to the city's deepening economic recession. She also says the perceived affluence of Noe Valley homeowners makes the neighborhood a natural target for thieves.

"It's a well-known fact that there's money in this neighborhood," says Lombardo. "All you have to do is look at the price of real estate and the type of shops around here. Add to that the fact that there are so many people out of work and that the economy has been in a downward spiral since September 11.

"People need money, especially during the holiday season," she continues, "so they're either stealing things to sell, or stealing things and then giving the stolen goods as gifts. It's a mixed-up way of thinking--that you need to give something so bad you steal it--but it happens."

Fine jewelry, computers, Palm Pilots, leather jackets, mountain and racing bikes, digital and video cameras, and of course cash made up the bulk of items taken from Noe Valley homes during the holiday season.

In many of the incidents, the thief entered the home through an open door or unlocked window. "Thieves target homes with easy access," says Lombardo. "I see a lot of cases where the suspect probably jumped a fence to get into a backyard and then got into the house through an open window or unlocked back door. Also, there's a lot of construction going on in the neighborhood, and they'll climb scaffolding to get to an open window."

Rickety back doors, which are common in older Noe Valley homes, also make for easy entry, says Lombardo. "People need to make sure their back door is sturdy. There are a lot of homes in Noe Valley where the door frames are rotting out. A door like that can easily be kicked down by a thief who wants to enter a home and steal."

To deter thieves, Lombardo encourages residents to leave lights on in their home when they go out in the evening and to install deadbolt locks on any doors leading to the outside. "I know if you're a renter, it's a headache to do it and that the landlord is probably supposed to pay for it," she says, "but if the landlord isn't willing, do it yourself. Or get all the renters in your building to write a letter to the landlord asking him or her to better secure the entryway to the building."

During December, a burglary of a home in the 4100 block of 26th Street was thwarted by a deadbolt. The thief attempted to get into the home by breaking the plexiglass portion of the front door, but a deadbolt lock at the top of the door prevented the thief from getting inside.

"Put as many deadbolt locks on your doors as possible," encourages Lombardo.

She also urges neighbors to get to know one another and unite against crime on their street. "It's important that neighbors watch out for each other and each other's property," she says. "The more pairs of eyes you have watching out for your property the better."

One way for neighbors to connect is by attending meetings of community groups, such as the Friends of Noe Valley, East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club, and Upper Noe Neighbors. Neighbors also can attend the monthly meetings held at Mission and Ingleside police stations. The next meeting at Mission Station, located at 630 Valencia Street, is on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. The next meeting at Ingleside Station, located at 1 Sergeant John Young Lane, is on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m.

Lombardo also says that she and other police officers are only a phone call away.

"Don't be afraid to call the SFPD's non-emergency number [415-553-0123] if you think you see something or someone who looks suspicious," she says. "Tell us what you saw and why you think it's suspicious, and an officer will come and check it out. It's important to trust your gut instinct when you think something is not right. Most of the time, your instinct is right." h