Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NPD Chief Kreins' response to San Marin Recent Crime Activities

Date: Tue, 20 Dec 2011 21:47:43 -0000
Subject: Recent Activity
Joseph Kreins, the Chief of Police for the City of Novato, has asked that I forward the following information that he has prepared for your association in response to recent criminal activity occurring in the San Marin area.

Michael Howard, Investigations Sergeant
Novato Police Department
909 Machin Ave., Novato CA 94945
(415) 897-4361

December 20, 2011
San Marin Home Owners Association:

As many in your neighborhood are aware, the Novato Police Department has responded to an increase in burglaries occurring in the Northern Novato area to include the San Marin neighborhoods. This increase has not gone unnoticed by our department, in particular, our patrol officers and our investigators. While thefts from unlocked cars have seemingly been on the rise throughout the City of Novato, and the County of Marin for that matter, the increase in residential burglaries in Novato has primarily been reported in the Northern part of town.

Although both residential and commercial burglaries in Novato are tracking at about the same rate as in 2010, we have in fact noticed a recent surge in residential burglaries over the past month (this is not uncommon for the holiday season). Between November and December 2011, 11 residential burglaries have been reported in Northern Novato. This includes attempted burglaries, unsuccessful for myriad reasons, to interrupted burglaries, and completed burglaries where loss of property resulted. In Northern Novato, 6 burglaries resulted in property loss. The majority of burglaries committed occurred either during the afternoon hours or overnight. In most cases, entry was gained through an unlocked 'portal of entry' to include doors and windows. In 9 of the 11 cases, the burglary was committed while no one was home.

One trend, of note, has been for suspects to attempt to contact homeowners at the front door of the residence. If the door is answered, innocuous questions are asked or some nonsensical statement is made and the suspects go on their way. If the door is not answered, it is assumed the residence is not occupied. The suspects then circle the residence looking for a 'portal of entry' into the residence. Often times, they find one.

On December 8, 2011, the Novato Police Department responded to the report of a homeowner hearing subjects in their residence. Thankfully, the suspects were scared away by the home owner's unexpected presence. To date, these suspects have not been identified or arrested.

On December 14, 2011, the Novato Police Department responded to the report of a juvenile who had come home to find two suspects inside his residence. The suspects, in the act of stealing items from within the residence, fled the scene. Although not captured by responding officers, the suspects were identified by the victim during investigation into the incident. The suspects were later arrested. Investigation is continuing into this matter to determine if the arrested subjects are responsible or are connected in some way to other burglaries in Novato and/or nearby jurisdictions. We have also worked closely with the Marin County Sheriff's Department and the San Rafael Police Department to compare investigative notes, criminal methods of operations and suspect information in a further attempt to identify and prosecute individuals responsible for these crimes.

The aforementioned examples exemplify the danger associated with these types of crimes. Thankfully, none of the reported burglaries have escalated in severity. No home owners have been confronted by burglars nor have there been any acts of aggression or violence directed at homeowners. However, I do not feel comfortable resting on past incidents as the convening authority on how future incidents will unfold. It is this discomfort, in both the community and at the Novato Police Department that is calling us to take further action to keep the community informed. The safety of our citizens and the sanctity of the home are of the utmost importance to the Novato Police Department. We believe an informed community, practicing sound crime prevention techniques, is our best resource in combating this upswing in property crimes.

The crime prevention techniques and ideas discussed below are the foundation of a safe community. Smaller elements, be it streets or blocks, within our Northern Novato neighborhoods already practice some or most of what I am about to discuss:
If there is one, single most, important piece of advice that I would give to a homeowner to enhance the safety of their residence, it is this: Lock your doors (to include garage door) and windows when you are not home. One might even consider locking their doors when they are home. This applies to the car in your driveway or garage as well. Close and lock bathroom and bedroom windows, no matter what level of the residence they are on.

Second, communication between neighbors, extending throughout the neighborhood, should be "the rule" and not "the exception." From personal contact on a daily basis to community meetings or e-mail lists, a neighborhood that communicates empowers the residents to police themselves. Neighbors who communicate with one another begin to develop a deeper sense of what is "normal" within their neighborhood. It is that "neighborhood expertise" that we, the Novato Police Department, tap into when we are investigating an incident.

Finally, we ask that you please report suspicious activity to the Novato Police Department. We cannot do our job without your help. Most calls for service begin with a call from a citizen. You are our "eyes and ears" on the street. If an incident or activity within your neighborhood leads you to consider calling the police, call us. The mere consideration means that what you observed, heard, or otherwise sensed, is not "normal" for your neighborhood and should be investigated further. There is absolutely no need to wait until an incident has resulted in a crime to call for an officer. Prevention of crime is our common goal.

In addition to the above actions, there are additional steps that should be taken to enhance your security and reduce the chances that you will become the victim of a crime:

First, steps to increase security in and around the home should be undertaken. A concept called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) was developed in the 1960's in response to escalating crime. This concept has grown from addressing specific neighborhood issues, to addressing all facets of property protection be it commercial, industrial, or residential. CPTED strategies rely upon the ability to influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts. Research into criminal behavior shows that the decision to offend or not to offend is more influenced by cues to the perceived risk of being caught than by cues to reward or ease of entry. Consistent with this research, CPTED based strategies emphasize enhancing the perceived risk of detection and apprehension. I encourage each homeowner to research this concept further. Each home has distinct strengths and weaknesses in regards to what can be altered or improved to increase security. There are four overlapping CPTED strategies to be considered:

• Natural Surveillance
• Natural Access Control
• Territorial Reinforcement
• Maintenance

The following has been borrowed from "A guide to safe environments in Prince William County, Virginia" (http://www.pwcgov.org/docLibrary/PDF/002035.pdf).

Natural Surveillance - The placement of physical features, activities and people in a way that maximizes visibility is one concept directed toward keeping intruders easily observable, and therefore less likely to commit criminal acts. Features that maximize the visibility of people, parking areas and building entrances are unobstructed doors and windows, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and streets, front porches and appropriate nighttime lighting.

Natural Access Control - Natural Access Control is another design concept directed primarily at decreasing crime opportunity by denying access to crime targets and creating a perception of risk for offenders. People are physically guided through a space by the strategic design of streets, sidewalks, building entrances, landscaping and neighborhood gateways. Design elements are very useful tools to clearly indicate public routes and discourage access to private areas.

Territorial Reinforcement - Physical design can also create or extend a sphere of influence. Users are encouraged to develop a sense of territorial control, while potential offenders, perceiving this control, are discouraged. This concept includes features that define property lines and distinguish between private and public spaces using landscape plantings, pavement designs, gateway treatments, appropriate signage and "open" fences.

Maintenance - Lastly, care and maintenance enable continued use of a space for its intended purpose. Deterioration and blight indicate less concern and control by the intended users of a site and indicate a greater tolerance of disorder. Proper maintenance prevents reduced visibility due to plant overgrowth and obstructed, or inoperative, lighting, while serving as an additional expression of territoriality and ownership.

In closing, I would like to thank the community for not remaining silent about the issues that are affecting our neighborhoods. We want to "catch the bad guys" as much as you do. Through timely reporting of suspicious activity and crime, we are able to work towards prevention of future incidents before the problems grow versus reacting to a problem that has grown out of control. We, the community and the Novato Police Department, are still in a position to maintain our safety and low crime rates while at the same time proactively reducing crime, identifying those who wish to cause us harm and holding those individuals accountable for their actions. We are here 24 hours each day and seven days each week to assist you in any way we can. We also have the resources and expertise to assist you with additional crime prevention information and we are willing to meet with you at any time to further address your needs or concerns.

Yours Truly,
Joseph M. Kreins
Chief of Police
415-897-4361