While we might be distracted by pending threats and tension with North Korea, Iran, and the Islamic State, the real crisis making vulnerable our accumulation of wealth and our peace of mind is already a threat right here at home.
Initiated by something as simple as a few confident knocks on your front door, the “knock knock burglary” epidemic is alive and well in Santa Clarita.
Over the last few years, hundreds of “knock knock burglary” crews have hit tens of thousands of Southern California homes looking for cash, jewelry, guns, credit cards and portable electronic devices.
These crews may hit five to 10 homes every day, five days a week. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department estimates as many as 100 local burglary crews are in operation on any given weekday.
Especially as the weather warms and families start taking vacations, the time is now to worry about being the next target of this growing danger.
These daylight attacks have affected more than a dozen high-profile celebrities in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood Hills and upscale Los Angeles. Residents in the Santa Clarita Valley have been recent victims as well, including several of my neighbors just this last year.
These “knock knock burglars” have already arrived at your or your neighbor’s door to see if anyone is home. If there is no response at the front, often they quickly sweep around the back and crash through a garage door, back door, or sliding glass door.
Some criminals are brazen enough to just kick the front door open for all the world to see, and then walk right in. Even with alarms blaring, they know they have about five minutes to ransack your bedrooms, bathrooms, and bedroom closets looking for a quick score.
While the most prolific marauders are sentenced to as much as 40 years in state prison, the majority convicted of multiple residential burglaries are sentenced to under a year of jail and are eligible for early release since they are categorized as “non-violent.”
Frequently “knock knock” offenders are released back to commit more burglaries in a matter of weeks.
Think about it. A sentence may equal one day of jail for every home burglarized. Typically, the courts order no significant restitution. No wonder home burglaries have become so popular. And unless we more effectively address this conduct, this trend is destined to expand.
Of course, we can stay alert and watch our neighborhoods, install alarm systems, contract with security patrol agencies and install cameras. But unless law enforcement can arrive in less than two to three minutes, these measures have no real stopping power.
Some of my Democratic friends have naively told me the solution is job training and giving inner city teens a job. One problem is that one illegal effort can earn more in 10 minutes than a legitimate job can earn in a month.
The other problem is that adults on drugs, the mentally ill and older folks – not just teens – are involved.
Some of my Republican friends have confidently told me more law enforcement is the answer. While highly trained, even our highly professional law enforcement personnel cannot be on every block at every moment to spot every crew in action.
The most impactful remedy to this behavior starts with how we implement the law.
First, we have to clear our mind of the notion that non-violent acts are less criminal than harmful physical acts. Emotional harm and trauma for home burglary victims may be just as real as for a victim who had been assaulted in person.
Second, catch-and-release by the courts provides no disincentive to misconduct. Mandatory sentencing of seven to 10 years for a first conviction of multiple residential crime would be a good start.
Requiring true restitution being paid by liquidating the perpetrator’s property is another good step. Doubling the mandatory sentence for a second conviction should keep a habitual offender out of circulation another 15 to 25 years.
My advice is to smartly conceal your valuables so that no cash, jewelry, guns or credit cards are discovered. Consider using the laundry room, attic, garage, or pantry – places rarely searched.
Installing several motion-detection cameras at eye level inside and outside your entrances recording to the cloud is also smart. While cameras may not prevent crime, at least you can help law enforcement build a case with face shots normally not visible from cameras mounted too high.
Be safe. And be alert.