If you notice strangers knocking on doors in your neighborhood, call the police. Be on guard against smartphone thieves, and don't leave valuables in your car.
That's the word from San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer, who said the county has seen a 36 percent increase in property crimes over the past six months.
During a recent presentation hosted by the Pacifica-Daly City Democrats Club, Manheimer said criminals from out of town are drawn to the county by its relative affluence. She said crooks are increasingly turning to burglary and theft because the consequences of getting caught are relatively light.
The increase, she said, has a lot to do with California's realignment, which shifted many offenders who committed nonviolent, nonserious, nonsexual crimes from the state prison system to county jails and supervision. Due to jail overcrowding, she said, many of these offenders spend little time behind bars.
Worse yet, she said, 75 percent of these "three nons" offenders are actually high-risk, dangerous individuals.
Manheimer said drug addiction is another big factor driving property crime. She places some blame on the state law designed to divert drug offenders into probation and treatment.
"Proposition 36 is one of the worst things to happen to California because there's no accountability," Manheimer said of the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000. The law allows qualifying individuals convicted of nonviolent drug-possession offenses to avoid jail time by completing drug treatment programs while on probation.
Manheimer said criminals target "high-value" areas such as Serramonte Center, where they snatch cellphones and break into cars.
Daly City Vice Mayor David Canepa said his city's police have increased patrols in and around the mall, and he praised the close collaboration between the county's various police departments.
That sentiment was echoed by Pacifica Police Chief Jim Tasa.
"We're one of the most cohesive counties, not only in the state," he said. "I'd go beyond that."
Manheimer said homes are also in the high-value category. She said burglars work in teams, often with a female decoy knocking on a home's front door while accomplices try to break in through the rear.
San Mateo United Homeowners Association President Ben Toy said the criminal teams look for homes that are in affluent neighborhoods, close to freeway on-ramps and unoccupied during the day.
"Home burglary is right on the edge of home invasion," Toy said.
Toy said some residents are hesitant to report suspicious activity because they don't want to bother the police over what might turn out to be nothing.
"Here's the key," Toy said, "Call! If someone's been knocking on doors, call! Use 911. You don't want to bother the police? Chief Manheimer's given these calls elevated priority, and she's said, 'Please bother us!'"