Acton residents frustrated by spike in crime

A screenshot of security footage from Santiago Square in Acton shows the suspects in an armed robbery at the florists there earlier this month. Courtesy photo

A convenience store that had a car driven into it by a 14-year-old. 

Three florists robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight. 

A gun shop that had its ceiling drilled into during a middle-of-the-night caper. 

A string of dangerous incidents people usually watch on true crime shows or see in the movies targeted two rural Acton properties in the last six weeks. 

Brady Watt owns both the Acton Town Center and Santiago Square, and he’s adding a full-time security guard to support his tenants to try and stem the crime. But he’d also like to see some additional help from the area’s sheriff’s station, which is in Palmdale, almost 20 minutes from his property. 

“We’re going to incur some expense by hiring a security guard, not just a patrol but a full-time 10-to-6 guy that kind of patrols the two centers we have,” Wyatt said, “and both have been victims of countless burglaries.” 

Palmdale Sheriff’s Station Deputy Orlando Martinez, who’s assigned to patrol the areas of Acton and Agua Dulce and their 10,000 or so residents, noted that part of the challenge, which Watt knows well, is that the businesses are right off the freeway, in a rural community area that’s comprised of 2.5- to 10-acre lots that sprawl for miles.  

But that’s also why Watt backed up his ask with an offer. 

Watt said he’s seen a steady uptick in the last two years or so, but since April, there’s been a string of incidents that have left the property owners hopeful that more can be done by the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station. 

He’s hoping for a substation or even a satellite office, and he said he’s even offered up the space for free and will pay utilities, if he can have a deputy nearby and more regular patrols. 

Right now, their location alongside Highway 14, about 20 minutes from the nearest station, makes them “sitting ducks,” if there’s no deputy on patrol nearby. 

Shea Sanna, a deputy district attorney who lives in the Santa Clarita Valley and previously worked at the DA’s office in Santa Clarita, said part of the challenge has been an increase in the volume of criminals coming from the north and heading south until they get what they’re looking for, he said. 

“So there are gangs (in Santa Clarita), but we’re seeing a lot of traffic from the (Antelope Valley) — start a crime spree, and then head through, down the 14 (freeway) to Santa Clarita — especially the retail thefts, where they go in and they try to grab as much merchandise as they can,” said Sanna, who said he’s aware of several cases where stores like Alta and Dick’s Sporting Goods have been targeted by suspects in the AV.  

Watt shared a timeline of incidents to try and get the word out that more support is needed, as the crimes appear to be increasing in their frequency and severity. 

Just at the Santiago Square Shopping Center, near Santiago and Sierra Highway, the following incidents have occurred in a matter of a few weeks, he said:  

A stolen car was driven into the front window and door of S & S Market in the middle of the night on April 10, causing thousands of dollars in damage, Watt said. The take: beef jerky, a hat and a bottle of vodka. 

Three days later, a pet groomers next door was targeted, with the storefront’s windows smashed. 

On April 21, a dentist’s office was broken into, and thieves smashed their way in to grab a cash machine in a failed attempt to process credit card transactions. Around the same time, a nearby dry cleaners was targeted. 

Two days later, gun-store burglars got onto the flat roof of the one-story building and drilled a hole that got them into the attic, where they cut through the T-bar ceiling and then stole a bunch of tools, because the weapons and ammunition were secured. 

On May 3, the florist was targeted by three armed gunmen who entered the store in the middle of the day demanding cash. When there wasn’t enough to satisfy their demands in the register, they stole the purses of three women working in the store. 

All of these reports took place in one shopping center, a frustrated Watt said Thursday, and the Acton Town Center has similarly been targeted.  

The U.S. Post Office there was broken into, and steel doors were installed in order to beef up security. The market there also added security as a result of break-in attempts. 

The pharmacy was also broken into last month, with the store being trashed by thieves in search of narcotics. That location also has had a series of break-ins. 

Watt said the Acton Town Council has been supportive of his calls for an increased deputy presence, which would benefit every business in the area. 

“Acton’s kind of always dealt with the, for lack of a better term, the kind of hit-and-run, run-and-gun type of things, because we’re right next to the 14 and a lot of our community’s businesses are kind of lined up along that corridor,” said Jeremiah Owen, president of the Acton Town Council. “And so, we’ve really pressed and asked for years — I’ve been on the Town Council for about five years now, and for the five years I’ve been on the council, we’ve been pressing the county to try to get a substation.” 

Martinez pointed out that crime in the area is technically down over the last 12 months, overall, when the issue of more resources was first brought up, also noting that deputy resources are allocated by population numbers in the unincorporated areas, as well as being reassessed regularly based on when there are upticks in reports.  

He also noted the station is actively working on several investigations related to the incidents at the two shopping centers, with some of the suspects in custody, and others still being sought, so he was unable to release too many details regarding the statuses of the investigations.  

Owen, who praised Martinez and his relationship with the council, also lamented the fact that there doesn’t seem much punishment for criminals anymore when deputies are able to find and arrest them. But Watt’s offer still represents a great opportunity, he said.   

“We have an opportunity to have, in the place, the location, which is right at the heart of where this has been happening — I think that’s why it’s so egregious to everybody involved,” Owen said. “It’s just that, ‘Hey, you know, the place that’s getting robbed heavily. Hey, we want to put a substation there,’ and the county can’t seem to get off their laurels to figure out a way to make it happen.” 

Station officials also encouraged residents to contact their local county representative if they wanted to see more resources in the area, as the patrol minutes that the station has available are determined by contract and through the aforementioned metrics on population and crime rate. 

Helen Chavez, communications director for Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys, said the 5th District office has never received a formal request for additional resources from the Sheriff’s Department, which is where such an ask would need to originate. 

When contacted Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department issued a statement through the local station that it was aware of the “recent crimes in Acton,” deputies were being proactive in their investigative efforts and, “Residents are encouraged to call Palmdale Station with any additional information they may have,” according to an email from Lt. Oscar Martinez of the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station.  

“Regarding establishing a ‘substation’ or ‘office’ for deputies in Acton, past discussions with the county’s Chief Executive Officer Real Estate section have taken place, and this option does not appear feasible at this time based on our current staffing allotments. This is subject to change in the future based on budgetary and staffing allocations.”   

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