Orinda Experiences Increase in Burglaries

Liz Berndt and Ali Pietrykowski, Staff Writer and Photo Editor

So far this year Orinda has experienced fewer burglaries than in past years.  However, this February had a higher crime rate than any year prior.

According to the FBI, Orinda is considered one of the five safest towns in California. Nonetheless, many Orinda families are concerned about the safety of their homes and children, and, in response to this, the Orinda Police Department has hosted a couple meetings for different parts of the community.

On March 20 OPD came to St. Stephen’s Church to lead a discussion on town safety. The meeting was open to questions, the possibility of increasing the number of police on duty at a time and hiring a security guard.

Before Orinda incorporated, we had only one police chief. In 1985, when the town was incorporated, officials pushed creating a full police force. Now Orinda has 14 officers, one chief, two sergeants (responsible for investigating crime), patrol supervision and a number of volunteers. At any time, there are two police officers on duty.

To evaluate the current police situation, decide if more officers are needed and come up with ways to make Orinda safer, the OPD appointed five Orinda residents to a Public Safety Commission Board.

“There is not one thing alone that you can do that is going to prevent someone from burglarizing your house. I like to call it ‘defensive depth’- there are a lot of things you can do,” Officer Kevin Mooney said.

The OPD developed a “Home Security Best Practices List” with an actual burglar who was willing to go with the police and show them the secrets of the trade. Burglars look for certain things: an entrance that is not visible from the street and piled up mail and newspapers in the driveway.

Mooney said that they would send an officer out to every house that wanted someone to go over the checklist with them and give them advice on what would further strengthen the safety of their home.

The list encourages residents to take precautions regarding home security. These include knowing your neighbors and their schedules, a photo list of valuables, asking the Orinda police for a vacation house-check while you are away, and 67 other recommendations.

“You are going to be our first line of defense and we depend on you,” Mooney said. It is rare that a police officer will actually see a burglary in process. If Orinda residents see any suspicious behavior they are strongly encouraged to call the Orinda dispatch immediately.

After recent burglaries, the Orinda Police Department is suspicious of three groups of possible suspects, some of whom have been arrested. Last year, in Orinda, roughly 38 people were arrested on burglary charges; these burglars are usually not from the area and make sure no one is home before entering the house.

There has only been one home invasion in the last 13 years. A home invasion differs from a burglary in that the residents are present during an invasion.

Last month, a home surveillance video was posted on YouTube. The video showed a car pulling up the driveway and two females approaching the house. They rang the doorbell and looked in the windows. When no one answered, they went back to the car. Then, two males kicked down the door, ran into the house, and 72 seconds later, ran out. The police arrived at the scene two minutes after the burglars left.

This burglary occurred on Jan. 23 at 12:15 p.m. It was the second time the family had been burglarized in the past five months. Tired of their house being broken into, they put the video on YouTube to warn fellow Orinda occupants and potentially scare the burglars. The surveillance camera caught an image of the license plate and the police were able to identify it as a stolen car.

In response to the success of this surveillance camera, the police have considered putting in a Neighborhood Surveillance System. The system would cost anywhere from $25,000 – $35,000 for just a small portion of Orinda. Similar systems have been installed in parts of Lafayette; however, in the last three years only two people have been convicted based on video clips.

Always call 911 in the case of an emergency, but in some cases it is faster to call the Orinda dispatch (925) 284-5010.