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Living in San Carlos February 25, 2009

Neighborhood Watch Program: Is it time for one in San Carlos?

by Chuck Gillooley

City of San Mateo Neighborhood WatchI was appalled to read about the rash of vandalism that took place in White Oaks over this past weekend, where 45 vehicles had their tires slashed or windshields smashed in an overnight crime spree.     Pretty sad to see something like this happen in such a great community.  But while the scale of the damage was in this case was shocking, the fact that it happened at all was NOT a surprise to me.   Here’s why…

Incidents like this have happened in various neighborhoods throughout San Carlos over the past several years.  The most recent I heard about was a rash of car burglaries on Knoll Drive late last year, where  a number of vehicles on the street had their windows smashed and valuables taken from the car.    I didn’t read about this in the papers, though.  I only heard about it because I know many of the families who live on that street.      With the exception of a one-line blurb in the San Carlos Police Activity Report, there was no mention about it anywhere that I could see.  No published advisory, warning…nothing.    And I’d be willing to bet that other neighborhoods have been hit as well.

Proactive vs Reactive.

In the article in the San Mateo Daily Journal about the most recent incident, San Carlos Police Sgt Mark Robbins was quoted as saying:

The city does not sponsor any formal neighborhood watch program, but residents can start informal programs or simply get to know their neighbors.

That one quote says it all.  I’m not singling out Sgt. Robbins at all — I know Mark personally and I think he’s a great guy —  he’s just following his department’s policy (or lack thereof).   But this IS a very telling statement about the mindset of our City leaders, and our current “reactive” approach to a growing problem in San Carlos.   Isn’t it time for the City take a more proactive approach to this silent problem???

Neighborhood Watch Program.

Many communities on the Peninsula have taken a  proactive approach to reducing neighborhood crime .   The City of San Mateo has a superbly organized  Neighborhood Watch Program that is supported and endorsed by the City of San Mateo and the San Mateo PD.    Redwood City has a similar program as well.

Has that time come for San Carlos?   I think so.  I know we relish the “small town” feel of our community, and I know that posting these kinds of signs has a negative connotation to the community.  But criminals have San Carlos pegged as a “target-rich” environment, and we have a real problem here that’s not going to go away unless we take a newer, more proactive approach.

I’d much rather see the City spend its precious funds on signs like this…

watch

than on signs like this…

bikelane1

What are your thoughts?

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Comments 19
  • Absolutely Chuck. This is outrageous. Everyone should take a look at the San Carlos police logs for the last month and see how out of hand things have become.

    http://www.cityofsancarlos.org/pd/daily_activity_log/2009/default.asp

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    • Kimberley,

      You bring up a very good point. I’m almost certain that for every incident that you see reported in the police logs, there are several that either don’t get reported to the police, or are investigated by the PD and just don’t make the activity log. So if it looks bad on paper, it’s even worse in reality.

      Thanks for providing those links…

      CG

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  • We had a car egged last year in front of the house resulting in some very expensive paintwork. I reported it.

    The last “crime spree” I remember making the papers here in San Carlos was the patio furniture thief from about 6-7 years ago.

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  • Chuck,

    Thanks for your informative blog. As a prospective San Carlos resident, it’s very helpful. While I agree that the city should support neighborhood watch efforts, I don’t think it makes sense to have that come at the expense of bike lane improvements. These, too, make the city a much more livable and pleasant place to live, and make it easier for residents to reduce their environmental impacts.

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    • Hi Uri,

      Welcome to the blog, and thanks for writing in.

      I made the comparison to the bike lane signs, or “sharrows” as they’re called, not because I’m against making the city more bike friendly. I’m actually a cyclist. I used this as an example of how the City chooses where it will spend its money, and how it will implement those plans. The sharrow signs were plastered all over Arroyo Ave and Cedar St, with no explanation to the public what the symbol actually meant, or why they were put there in the first place.

      (By the way, here’s an explanation of what those signs actually mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_lane_marking)

      My point is that if it’s important enough to fund the painting of sharrows all over San Carlos, then there really needs to be an equal or greater priority in funding a Neighborhood Watch program.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      CG

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  • Enough already with making San Carlos “bike friendly”! This tiny vocal minority has bamboozled the city council into wasting incredible amounts of money on bike lanes, “share the road” decals, making a mess of traffic around Carlmont/T-L to accomodate bike lanes, etc. When’s the last time you ever saw an actual biker in the bike lanes on Brittan or any other street around town that has been desecrated by these ridiculous stripes and decals. In these tough economic times, the city has many more worthy projects to be funding…like stopping crime in our neighborhoods.

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  • Chuck,

    Thanks for bringing this up. From the reports there looks to be a lot of stuff happening in White Oaks right now. While I am a fan of setting up a neighborhood watch program (although I don’t know how) I would be interested to know what the police department is doing about the break ins. Seems like a lot of report taking. I am out and about a little at night and I would have to say I have not see more patrol cars running around.

    Fred

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    • Hi Fred,

      I agree with you — it’s pretty frustrating to see “Report Taken” as the disposition on every one of these incident reports. Even though I’m sure the PD has a plan to address these burglaries, it just adds to the perception that we’re not being proactive enough.

      I read somewhere that this issues was going to be addressed at Monday’s Council Meeting — did anyone attend this meeting?

      Thanks,

      CG

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  • Hi Chuck-

    Thanks for bringing this topic up. It is an issue that my family went through when we lived in San Mateo. We set up a watch program for our complex and it helped.

    That said, I am amazed that more than one of the families I know in San Carlos leave their doors unlocked and key in their cars along with valuables. I don’t care where you live in the Bay Area, this makes you an easy target. Please don’t interrupt this statement as me saying these people got what they deserve, because that is not what I am saying.

    Also, on the bike lanes/safety issue…I ride a bike and drive a car in San Carlos and am very happy to see the increased emphasis on bicycle safety from the city. The level of cyclist/driver awareness on bicycle safety, laws, and rights is far from acceptable.

    Thanks,

    David

    PS: People, make your kids wear a helmet and use the lights on their bikes.

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  • Chuck,
    The city does fund a Neighborhood watch program, it is called the Police Department. Since you brought this issue up, you should take the initiative and start a program in your neighborhood. The police can’t be everywhere all the time, these events are random and occur in the span of one night. Most don’t get reported until morning. We rely on our government for a lot, but sometimes change needs to come from private citizens stepping up and taking ownership.
    Andy

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    • Andy,

      You’re absolutely correct, it will take citizen initiative to bring a program like this to bear. But it’s going to take the cooperation and endorsement of the San Carlos PD, as well as some education on how a program like this runs. It’s probably not as simple as someone taking turns sitting out all night in a lawn chair watching the neighborhood. I’d say it’s a fair bet that the average citizen in San Carlos would like to be involved, but doesn’t have any idea how to set one up.

      If you look at the links I provided in the post, both Redwood City and San Mateo have personnel on their staff dedicated to their respective Neighborhood Watch programs. For this to work, SCPD needs to be able to do the same thing.

      I will very likely take the initiative in my neighborhood. A couple of years ago, I interrupted some teenagers who were popping unlocked car doors and stealing stuff out of cars on my street. This is a chronic problem in San Carlos, and the purpose of this post was to raise the visibility of the problem, not to point fingers at anyone.

      Thanks for your comments,

      CG

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  • I commend those neighbors who are concerned enough to know who is in their neighborhoods and what is going on.

    When we purchased our home, the former owners told us, “you’re hill people now; you won’t know your neighbors here”. As this has not played out to be totally true, in 6 years, we only know the names of 3 of our immediate neighbors. The rest have not bothered to even stop and say hello if they are passing by, let alone introducing themselves with a name.

    As is not the case in White Oaks, those of us west of San Carlos Ave in Devonshire Canyon and Beverly Terrace would welcome a cohesive plan to actually put a stop to people lurking around and getting into trouble on our streets.

    And yes to Bill’s comment, how many bicyclists use those lanes vs those of us that are inconveneinced by them each day?? We should have better causes to focus our resources on.

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  • I totally agree. It’s time for the city to move past the “nice-to-haves” like park improvements and fancy bike trail markers to the “need-to-haves” such as crime prevention. Given the current economic environment, we’re likely to see more problems in this neighborhood. Perhaps the city and the police department could take the initiative to hold a town hall meeting and invite ideas/thoughts from the public on how to go at this. I don’t know about others who live here, but I rarely see a police car in the White Oaks area. Granted, the department is spread thin over a very large area. But every public agency has resource issues these days and one way or another we’ve got to have an action plan to deal with this. I am frankly amazed that our neighborhood has neither a residents association nor a Crime Watch program. I think we need both. This last incident is a wake-up call and we can no longer be complacent about security.

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  • I agree that the city and police department should have a town hall meeting to discuss the status of our police coverage as well as what we as citizens and neighbors can be doing to increase our own security and help watch out for our neighbors. I wonder if the city is considering implementing a curfew given the recent activity. Does anyone know if the cities with the Crime Watch Programs have curfews? Maybe if there are any readers from the city council or police department they could comment on the possibility of a meeting to discuss this and what steps are being implemented.

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  • “Neighborhood Watch” is a great idea! Q: What is it? A: It is the ability of any individual or a ‘body’to bring a neighborhood physically together in a room and discuss the topic that brought them there. The topic is of no relevance as the people actually meeting each other and knowing who lives where, at least by ‘face’ is the REAL goal. For instance, we now know that 93 year old Mrs. Adams, who lives on her own, 5 doors down, is probably not fooling with her car stereo at 10:30 at night. It’s not completely unreasonable for my neighbor to be finishing a project at that time, but NOW that I know it’s Mrs. Adams’ car, I’m suspicious!
    In short a Neigthbor Watch would work so much better if merely everyone gave (the spokesperson or organizer) $50 per family member, to reserve one of the local restaurants for a good Saturday lunch, bring the kids and you all had a bunch of fun in meeting eachother and giving your kids an opportunity to meet neighbors and form future bonding relationships, Moms and Dads possibly too, BUT now you’re creating your own REAL neighborhood Watch!! Do It – Have Fun – It Works!
    Now, the next neighborhood mailer seems all-the-more worthwhile to read!

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  • UPDATE: The problems are more widespread than just White Oaks. Here are a couple of incidents that just occurred around the Arroyo Ave area. These are excerpts from emails that were forwarded to me:

    “Hi –

    We also had an incident happen recently – last Monday when I came home from work, our front door was wide open. I looked around and it didn’t look like anything had been taken, so I thought maybe I hadn’t closed the door completely and it had blown open. However, later that night, we noticed that the panel in the ceiling of our master closet that leads to our attic space was pushed aside. Someone had to have done this deliberately, and there is no way the kids could reach it. We think someone was in there, but got spooked and ran away before they could take anything.

    Also, last Friday, our next door neighobor came home late and saw a couple of people (he thought older kids) all dressed in black hanging around the street. He called the police while standing in his doorway, and as soon as he started talking, he saw 2 figures jump out from the hedge between our houses and another 2 from the next house down – they ran away down the street.

    So be cautious… we actually ended up having a house alarm installed this past weekend.”

    …and

    “hi all-
    I wanted to let everyone know about an incident that happened to a friend on Walnut. Friday evening she was home alone. Around 8pm there was a knock on her door. She didn’t think anything of it as her kids friends sometimes drop by. She walked toward the door and the person on the other side was trying the handle and pushing on the door. Trying to get in. She looked thru the peephole to see who it was. A man in a white hooded sweatshirt pulled up so she could not see his face. He tried the doorknob a few more times and then left.
    She called her kids to see if any of there friends were stopping by to pick up anthing they may have left. No one was going over to her house.
    I am sorry to pass on yet another story of this sort.”

    Folks, we have an ugly little problem here in San Carlos that needs to be fixed…

    CG

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  • UPDATE #2: From 3/10/09

    “Apparently, sometime after 11pm a car was stolen from Hillsborough, and then it was left on Chestnut Street close to Howard Ave, which is where I live. Whoever stole the vehicle broke into at least 3 cars on our street, and then stole a vehicle from Geneva street, which is the street next to us. The police also believe that these same suspects broke into several other vehicles further up Howard, including smashing in a car window to get what they wanted.”

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  • First, I want to say that we were the victim of the tire slasher a few weeks ago and last year we too had our car egged outside our home as well . We were more than a little annoyed. at each of these incidents. The culprit you see, is not just the criminal, we are also at fauly.

    San Carlos residents have too long assumed that because we are a relatively safe community that we don’t need to fund our police department like other cities do. Obviously that is not true. The night that out car’s tire was slashed, there were three police officers on duty. If one officer is giving a traffic ticket and another is responding to any type of call whether it be a medical call or some form of disturbance, that leaves only one officer to patrol the entire city of San Carlos. This is the reason that crime is on the increase. Let’s be honest, a neighborhood watch is a great idea, but the true protection comes from our police force. If we don’t commit to financially supporting them, and growing our department to meet the needs of our community, we are handicapping them and need to take responsiblity for our inaction. It is a simple mathmatic equation. The city of San Carlos, when patrolled at night by three officers, is divided into three sections. Therefore, on a good night, with no calls demanding immediate attention, you essentially have 33% of the city being covered by one individual. If that individual is responding to another call, there are two officers covering the entire city, reducing their coverage even more. It doesn’t make me feel safe, how about you? Maybe if we feel unsafe enough, we’ll commit to properly funding our police department and allow them the resources and tools to do their jobs effectively.

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