Soledad residents express crime concerns

Several residents from Mt. Soledad and La Jolla Shores have contacted City Council President Scott Peters for assistance in addressing what they are calling “rampant crime.”

Vehicle theft, auto and home break-ins, and malicious vandalism have residents frustrated and fearful.

“Right now it’s just getting more and more blatant,” said Izzy Tihanyi, whose 2007 Honda CRV was stolen from in front of her home sometime between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. Saturday, June 21 while the family was inside their house. “We need better police protection and I expect the mayor’s office to do something about this immediately because all the neighbors are very upset. La Jolla needs to be a safe place to live, and right now, it’s not.”

Tihanyi said neighbors have shared similar stories, including one account of a front door being kicked open in broad daylight. Another family told her their home was broken into while they were home asleep.

“That is by far the scariest thing,” Tihanyi said."It’s shocking that someone would do that.”

Kasia Biernacki echoed her neighbor’s concern: “Clearly we’re seeing an escalation, not only in the frequency of crime, but the malice involved.”

A Mt. Soledad resident for eight years, Biernacki and her family have experienced three auto break-ins in the last year. Around 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 22, Biernacki saw a male approach her convertible, apparently to attempt a break-in. When she confronted the man, he drove off.

Two days later, sometime between 3:30 and 6:30 a.m. vandals damaged Biernacki’s 2002 BMW convertible and her husband’s 2002 Chevy Suburban. She said the windshields were shattered and the car bodies damaged by large boulders and concrete blocks. She also found her locked courtyard littered with broken bricks thrown at her home.

“The scene was unbelievable,” she said.

Five other homeowners in her neighborhood reported similar damages occurring during that same time period.

Capping Biernacki’s dismay, what she said “rattled” her the most, was a lack of police response, “almost as if this is what we get for living here.”

“The message from the police,” Biernacki said, “is essentially, ‘We can’t protect you.’ ”

When she reported the incident via telephone, she said the police officer said because she lives on a cul de sac with minimal foot traffic and little through traffic in an affluent community, she is at increased risk.

Peters received several e-mails chronicling residents’ interactions with police.

Carrie Luetzow, a neighbor of Biernacki, described public safety officials as “apathetic and non-responsive.” In her e-mail to Peters, Luetzow wrote: “It is frightening and maddening that we pay such a premium to live in this community, and yet we are struggling to have these basic security and safety issues adequately addressed.”

“Council President Peters takes this very seriously,” said Pam Hardy, communications director for Peters. “He’s asked the police department to compile crime data in that neighborhood to analyze it and better provide information on when and how these crimes are happening and what’s being done about them. We’ve also asked the police to be available for a public safety meeting if the community is interested in hosting one.”

Police officials from San Diego’s Northern Division also demonstrated frustration, commenting that the statistics simply don’t support allegations of a crime spree.

“I don’t agree that there’s a rash or crime spree on Mt. Soledad,” said Lt. David Nisleit. “I’m reluctant to say this is a crime spree, per se.”

He added that complacency and negligence on the part of residents - leaving vehicles and garages unlocked or leaving electronics in cars - adds to the problem.

“First of all, the police can’t be everywhere,” Nisleit said. “You’ve got to make your own luck. Most criminals are opportunist. It literally takes these people seconds.

“A lot of these kinds of crimes go unreported. In order for us to do something about this, we need to document the crimes. Even if we take a report over the phone, it’s just like the report being taken in person.”

He suggested several common-sense preventative measures: locking homes and automobiles, installing outdoor lighting and getting acquainted with neighbors.

“Police have said cameras are a good deterrent,” Biernacki said. “Unfortunately it’s just going to send the burglars to my neighbor’s house who doesn’t have cameras. To me, that’s not a solution.”

The community has responded positively to a suggestion that a neighborhood watch be formed, but Biernacki is working on additional measures as well.

“I’m seriously looking into whether we can gate our street off,” she said. “It’s either that or we have to move. I don’t know what the next crime around the corner will be, but I know there will be one.”