Home security urged by law enforcement
As the holiday season approaches, law enforcement officials encourage residents to take extra precautions against burglars.
“People are more desperate during the holidays, so we get more property crimes,” said Sgt. Scott Johnson, public information officer for the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.
Although national crime rates have declined in recent years, an FBI study found that more than 400,000 burglaries occur in the United States during the months of November and December each year. And while FBI research shows that burglaries spike during the holiday season, the national clearance rate for burglaries remains low. Across the country, less than 15 percent of reported burglaries are solved.
In Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, law enforcement officers have identified specific patterns in burglary cases. For example, single-family homes are more likely to be targeted than apartment buildings, and the most commonly pilfered items in burglaries include gold, electronics, firearms, jewelry and alcohol.
“Burglars look for anything that can be converted into quick cash,” Johnson said.
Some area residents are acutely aware of the pain burglaries can cause. In December 2010, Moustafa Ahmed’s home on Hawver Road outside San Andreas was ransacked by burglars.
“I almost had a heart attack,” Ahmad said as he recalled learning that his home had been burglarized. “My arms were numb. I couldn’t move.”
In total, the thieves who burglarized Ahmed’s home made off with an estimated $30,000 in loot. Besides stealing Ahmed’s large flat-screen television, kitchen appliances, power tools, yard equipment, gold and silverware and telescope, the perpetrators also stole his Jeep J20 and utility trailer. In a particularly cruel twist, the burglars used Ahmed’s Jeep and utility trailer to remove his other possessions from the property.
At the time of the incident, investigators with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office believed that an expensive gate on the front of Ahmed’s driveway signaled to the burglars that valuables were on the property.
“The deputy told me, ‘If you drive on this road and then you see a beautiful gate, bad people will say ‘There must be something good in there.’ I never paid attention to that, because I thought the gate was something good for the community – an enhancement for everybody.”
“When your home is invaded, it’s devastating,” Ahmed added.
Despite the prevalence of burglary during the holiday season, residents can take precautions to protect themselves. These precautions include getting to know neighbors, putting timers on lights, stopping newspaper delivery when they leave town, arranging to be home when packages are delivered and not leaving boxes for expensive merchandise on the curbs in front of their houses.
Sgt. Chris Hewitt of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office said people should never take security for granted.
“People think that because they live here in the foothills, they can leave their cars and homes unlocked and nothing bad will happen,” Hewitt said. “People need to be careful at all times and not leave valuables in the open.”
He went on to say that his department encourages residents to install security cameras and alarm systems in their houses.
While residents are at an increased risk of being burglarized during the holiday season, law enforcement is quick to point out that burglars are at great peril when they commit their crimes.
“Burglary is a very risky activity. In Calaveras and Tuolumne, lots of people own firearms,” Johnson said, adding that burglars can become victims themselves if they break into a house they believe is empty and encounter an armed homeowner.
Johnson also said that burglary cases are taken extremely seriously in both Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.
“Our counties are very aggressive with our burglary investigations,” Johnson said. “We actively investigate all burglaries.”
More than anything, law enforcement emphasizes the importance of community participation in preventing burglaries.
“People should get to know their neighbors and let them know when they’re leaving town,” Johnson said. “Then, if you get a hunch that something is wrong, you shouldn’t hesitate to call law enforcement. Your call could be just the break we need to prevent or solve a crime.”