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[whitespace] Sheriff's office issues burglary safety tips

Holiday season has shown sharp increase in burglaries during last two years

Cupertino--In the past two years, Cupertino has experienced a rash of burglaries during the holiday season, primarily involving the homes of Asian American families. The sheriff's office has noted the sharp increase in residential burglaries during the holiday months during the last two seasons, and hopes to end the trend this year by informing homeowners of the increased risk, and giving them tips on how to safeguard their property.

Sgt. John Hirokawa, public information officer for the sheriff's office, explains that during the 1999 holiday season "all of a sudden we had this spike in residential burglaries, we noticed that all the victims were Asian, and it occurred to us that we had the same problem in 1998."

Last year, 20 burglaries occurred between Thanksgiving and Christmas alone, as well as a significant amount between Christmas and New Year's. Hirokawa says so far this year the department hasn't seen any rise in the burglary rate, but the office believes the pattern of previous years may continue as people begin to leave town for the holidays.

The sheriff's office does not know why the burglars target homes that belong to Asian families, according to Hirokawa. Thus far, officers have no suspects in the string of holiday burglaries.

However, Hirokawa believes criminals may look for certain clues to indicate whether or not a home belongs to an Asian family. Many of the burglarized homes displayed Asian decorations and characters outside, and had visible Asian artwork within the house. The sheriff's office does not discourage such decorations, but Hirokawa does want people to know that homes with such decorations may run a higher risk of attracting criminal attention.

The sheriff's office cannot say for certain why criminals target Asian homes specifically, but Hirokawa says it may have something to do with the criminals' perceptions that Asian homes contain more jewelry and cash than homes belonging to other ethnic groups.

Hirokawa suggests a number of steps that homeowners can take to protect their houses from burglary. He says, in general, half of all residential burglaries occur without forced entry into the home.

Simply locking all doors and windows, even during short trips from the house, remains essential. Hirokawa also recommends that all exterior doors have deadbolt locks, and that people not leave keys under doormats. Criminals can easily find the keys and use them to enter the house.

Homeowners should also make sure garages and other storage areas have good locks, especially if the areas connect to the house. "Once [burglars] get into your garage, they have all day to work on that door to get into your house" since people cannot see them there, Hirokawa says.

Hirokawa also urges homeowners to put timers on their lights and other appliances if they plan to leave town, so that the house appears occupied when they are gone. Homeowners should also ask a neighbor to pick up their mail and newspapers, or stop service for those days altogether.

Hirokawa stresses the importance of informing neighbors of plans to leave town, and says officers usually catch burglars because a neighbor notices something amiss and reports it to the police.

"The public's help is the main reason we catch these people," he says. "If you know your neighbors are gone and you see something suspicious, don't hesitate to call 911, and we'll check it out."

However, Hirokawa discourages people from becoming directly involved if they see a crime in progress.

"Don't ever try to stop a criminal yourself," he says. "Call us and we will stop them."
Kevin Fayle

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Web extra to the December 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro.

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