Police have reason to believe recent home burglaries in Atherton — including the theft of $800,000 worth of jewelry stolen from a home on Tuesday, Dec. 8 — are linked to a crime spree in town two years ago, they shared with residents during a meeting Wednesday night (Dec. 9) over Zoom, which 212 people attended.
During the November 2018 to February 2019 spree, millions of dollars of goods were stolen in 20 residential burglaries over a four-month period.
Police said gang members in Southern California, who were arrested, jailed, or deported, were the culprits of burglaries in town the winter before last. They may still be communicating with others to commit crimes, such as the six burglaries in town that have taken place since Oct. 1, said Atherton Police Chief Steve McCulley.
"It appears that they are back," he said. The break-in method Tuesday, Dec. 8, on Greenoaks Drive is notably consistent with the prior string of burglaries, in which thieves climbed up to the second story of homes to gain entry. "With over 200 participants (in the meeting), people are paying attention to this issue (the burglaries)."
There is security footage from the latest burglary, and police are hopeful they will capture images of the suspects, McCulley said. Unfortunately, if it is the same crew from two years, they often make themselves unidentifiable on camera, wearing hoodies and face masks, he noted.
The same group likely broke into homes up the Peninsula in Hillsborough, McCulley said. They tend to burglarize residents mid-week or mid-evening and come when there is still daylight, and then when it gets dark, they wait to see which homes do not have lights on and appear to be unoccupied.
"The burglary last night (Tuesday) fit that MO (modus operandi) exactly,” he said, noting the burglary happened between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on and burglars gained entry through a second-story master bedroom.
Mayor Rick DeGolia noted the mode of entry and timing of the burglary Dec. 8 "absolutely" fit with the crimes that occurred in town two years ago.
Thieves are climbing up gutters or putting furniture underneath upstairs patios to pull themselves up to balconies, said police Sgt. Anthony Kockler. He said they try to enter from the upstairs level since "very few" people install alarms or motion sensors beyond the first floor of their homes.
McCulley reassured nervous residents who asked whether the burglars tend to be violent that, like most burglars, these ones are trying to burglarize residences when no one is home and are not harming residents.
During the Wednesday meeting, officials also discussed how the town has installed 21 license plate readers to help deter crime and possibly capture criminals going to or leaving the scenes of burglaries. The cameras were first proposed as a response to the 2018-19 burglary spree.
Several residents offered to help fund additional cameras during the discussion.
"It certainly gives me a lot of peace of mind knowing how deeply concerned the chief (McCulley) and the police force are for our safety," said resident Ann Walker during the meeting.
Automated license plate readers (ALPRs) are mounted on police cars or on fixtures such as road signs and bridges. There were already public safety cameras at Holbrook-Palmer Park, and new police vehicles are equipped with ALPR cameras as part of their existing dashboard cameras.
In May, the City Council approved buying Flock Safety automated license plate readers at a cost of $2,000 each starting in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which began July 1.
DeGolia noted that for a town like Atherton in which residents value their privacy, 21 cameras is a large number to have installed, but the hope is that the Flock cameras were able to capture any vehicles the burglars arrived in Tuesday night and in other instances.
View a presentation from the meeting here.