BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
A recent spike in residential burglaries brought dozens of people to the monthly meeting of the California Heights Neighborhood Association (CHNA) meeting last Thursday evening (August 20). Local residents heard Commander Billy Quach of the Long Beach Police Department’s (LBPD) North Division and Detectives Dave Fritz and Dave DeMasi talk about crime in the area and what can be done to prevent it.
Quach told the audience that violent crimes in the North Division area are down 7.5 percent compared to the first seven months of 2008, but he added that while the total number of all violent crimes has decreased, homicides have increased. “Last year we had six,” he said. “We have 12 right now.” He noted, however, that homicides in 2008 were at a 19-year low.
He added that property crimes in the North Division area are down 4.8 percent compared to the same period last year, but– as is true for most of the city– auto burglaries and home burglaries have increased. Quach urged residents to phone the police whenever they see suspicious activity or people in their neighborhoods. “A lot of the arrests we make for burglaries are the result of your phone calls,” he stressed.
Quach ended his presentation by introducing Fritz and DeMasi, who are part of a LBPD pilot program designed to determine whether more crimes can be solved by stationing detectives at substations rather than having them work from a downtown office, which has proven to be the case so far in the North Division.
“We primarily focus on property crimes, which are residential and commercial burglaries, auto theft and auto burglaries,” Fritz said.
“We are hoping that this program stays here,” DeMasi added. “There are four detectives up here specifically for property crimes.”
DeMasi warned residents to be wary of a juvenile knocking on their door and asking for someone who does not live there. He said that action is often a ruse to see if anyone is home. “If you don’t answer your door, they will go around back and break into your house,” he said, adding that sometimes would-be burglars also pretend to be door-to-door salesmen or fundraisers.
“That’s why it is important for you to call when you see anything that you think is out of the ordinary,” DeMasi said. “A lot of this goes on during the day when people are at work. So anybody that is home during the day should try to look out for their neighbors and phone us.”
Fritz added that burglars are attracted to well-kept homes. “You all live in one of the nicer areas of Long Beach, but that’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he warned. “Burglars know that the working-class people are going to have things like big-screen televisions and nice jewelry in their homes. A lot of times we also see firearms stolen.”
Fritz told the audience that there are some simple things people can do to keep their homes safe. “If you have curtains or blinds, keep them closed,” he said, explaining that burglars sometimes look through windows to see if valuables are easily accessible. “I hope everyone in here is not that trusting where they don’t lock their doors or windows,” he added. “I know it’s summertime and you may want to leave something open, but don’t do that.” He noted that leaving a fan in a window is also a bad idea because a burglar can easily push the fan into the house leaving the window wide open.
Fritz also encouraged residents to keep records of serial numbers and to engrave their name or Social Security number on their valuables. “A lot of times, we will gather up a bunch of stuff like laptops and camcorders, but we don’t know who to return it to,” he said. “Marking your valuables can help us catch the suspect and get your stuff back to you.”
Fritz said that between July 1 and August 17, 19 residential burglaries were reported in the North Division’s 20th beat. That area is roughly bounded by Wardlow Road, Atlantic Avenue, Del Amo Boulevard and Cherry Avenue and includes some neighborhoods to the north, south and east of those lines.
Underscoring what Quach said, Fritz urged audience members to report all suspicious activity and people to the police. “When you call us, you lighten our work load,” he said, explaining that when the police interview a suspicious person, it can bring two positive results: crime prevention and/or an arrest. “Just call us,” he said. “Let us sort it out.”
John Royce, president of CHNA, added that leaving a radio on and making arrangements for your neighbors to remove newspapers and fliers from your yard and steps were also good ways to discourage burglaries. “Anything you can do to make it look like someone is home will tend to discourage a burglar from trying to break into your home,” he said.
Fritz and DeMasi also urged residents to form or join neighborhood watch groups. To do so, phone Lisa Massaconi at (562) 570-7229.