Car break-ins, home security topics of La Jolla safety forum

La Jollans were told a thinly stretched, underfunded police force is doing all it can to combat crime, half of which involves vehicles, at a community safety forum at La Jolla Rec Center Feb. 15.

Council President Scott Peters sponsored the forum, which was held in the wake of the Feb. 6 burglary at gunpoint of the household of philanthropist Ernest Rady in La Jolla Shores, as well as recent break-ins at Cold Stone Creamery in the Village and A Better Deal tuxedo shop in Bird Rock.

The public forum included a visit by Mayor Jerry Sanders, former chief of San Diego police, plus presentations by Northern Division Police Capt. Boyd Long and Police Lt. Brian Ahearn, who covers La Jolla.

It’s unnerving,” commented Peters, during opening remarks, about the recent spate of crime in La Jolla. “Police are going to tell us about specific crime trends, good or bad, in La Jolla and a few things about how we can keep our homes and our families more safe.”

Peters noted the City Council is grappling with the problem of underpaid police officers in San Diego. “This is the time of year when labor negotiations start,” he said. “The mayor is doing that with police officers right now. We’re sympathetic to that. We don’t have a lot of money to spend in our city. But we do set priorities in our city, and public safety is our number one priority.”

During his presentation on La Jolla crime, Long pointed to a map of La Jolla with bright red markings indicating heavy concentrations of car break-ins and other crimes. “Between 2000 and 2005, violent crime in your community fell by crime statistics,” said Long. “However, the one area that was up was crimes against property. That crime involves a significant amount of vehicles, cars parked out on the street, or in the driveway. That represents almost 50 percent of all the crime that happens in La Jolla, someone breaking into your car, whether it’s parked on the driveway or on the street in front of your house. That’s a significant number, and that’s a number you can help us reduce.”

Long gave a rundown of the high-profile armed burglary of the Rady residence. He then offered a number of common-sense tips telling people how they can make their parked vehicles less attractive to opportunistic thieves. For example, he said, people should always make sure their windows are closed and their doors are locked, even when they’re home. He added burglars are looking for residences with easy access.

If people notice a suspicious car, or a suspicious person in their neighborhood, someone or something that seems out of place, Long urges them to call the police and report it. He said such calls will be taken seriously, though response times will vary due to circumstances. “If there’s officers available,” said Long, “we’ll move them into the area to find out why that person’s there, find out if they should be there.”

“La Jolla Shores and downtown La Jolla business district are hot areas to have your car burglarized,” said Long, who added there are also easy things to do to remove the temptation for thieves to break into parked vehicles.

The most important thing to remember to avoid car break-ins, Long said, is to keep the inside of your parked vehicle clean. “If I’m an opportunist, I’m going to wait for the car that has an attache in it, change in the middle of the seat, an iPod in the back seat, something I’m interested in getting. If it’s not there, I’m not going to waste my time.”

Long said after vehicle break-ins, auto theft is the most frequent crime committed in La Jolla. He cautioned surfers and other beach users not to stash their keys in the bushes or on top of their tires or on the brick wall nearby to avoid the chance of losing them in the sand on the beach. He said people may think they’re not being observed stashing their keys, but those doing the watching are not always so apparent. “We do have a group of people who set up in those areas and wait for people to park their cars and go to the beach, and they look to see where those keys are going to be stashed.”

Steering wheel locking devices, though time consuming and inconvenient, are another strong deterrent to vehicle theft. “It’s much less of a hassle than coming out and finding your car gone,” said Long.

Identity theft is also on the rise. Long suggested getting a shredder to dispose of important correspondence, rather than throwing it away where it can be found by someone else.

Mayor Sanders, who once worked the graveyard shift as a patrol officer in La Jolla, noted crime prevention needs to be a communitywide effort. “We all have to think about it every single day,” Sanders said, pointing out there are sure things that can be done to prevent commonplace crime like car prowls.

“Car prowls are completely preventable if you always put your valuables in the trunk or don’t leave them on seats,” said Sanders, “or if we always have a steering wheel lock, things like that. There’s no reason for anyone to ever break into your car.”

Prevention, and education, are key to making communities safer against crime. Said Sanders: “That’s what this is all about, you going back and telling your neighbors and your kids and your families how you can prevent crime, and work with your police department to do that.”

Crime Prevention Security Guides developed by the San Diego Police Department Community Crime Prevention Unit were also passed out at the Feb. 15 public safety forum. They contain a great deal of information on how to prevent crime geared toward homeowners. To report suspicious activity or a non-emergency, dial (619) 531-2000.