Though the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in most Americans staying closer to home, criminals apparently haven’t gotten the message. That’s according to San Marino Police Chief John Incontro, who reported a local rise in certain kinds of crime.
“Communities like ours don’t have many violent crimes, but we suffer from property crimes,” said Incontro. “The majority of the crimes are package thefts, thefts from vehicles and the theft of gardening equipment. And a large number of them can be prevented.”
According to SMPD crime statistics, larcenies have increased by more than 60% through the first six months of 2020 compared with the same period last year. Ninety-seven were reported from January through June this year, and 60 a year ago. Among the 2020 offenses, 34 were thefts from vehicles, 33 were package thefts and 11 have been classified as theft of gardening equipment. The city has also experienced six auto thefts so far this year, compared with three in all of 2019.
Record unemployment caused by the pandemic appears to have contributed to the increase in crime, Incontro said, adding that another reason could be the “zero bail” policy that was adopted in Los Angeles County on March 27 in an effort to slow the transmission of the coronavirus in jails. The policy removed bail requirements for misdemeanors and low-level felonies.
“Now, instead of getting arrested, the suspect gets a ticket,” said Incontro. “Before, we would book them. Now they are just ‘cited out.’ If it is a nonviolent offense, they just receive a ticket. It’s not a problem that is just happening here in San Marino, we are seeing it all around Southern California.”
Incontro said the city is working on the design of a multilingual flier cautioning residents and workers in the city about thieves’ activities. He also said he is trying to put together a program where day workers will be allowed to park in the driveways of homes where they are working, a measure meant to thwart thefts.
The SMPD is also discussing with Amazon, the online shopping site, the possibility of placing a package locker at a city facility. Under the arrangement police envision, buyers would receive a code number that would be used to retrieve a package that would remain active for a finite time period.
Incontro also addressed the rise in auto thefts.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Please keep your cars locked and take your keys and key fob with you. And no matter how short a period of time you intend to be away from your vehicle, make sure it is locked. Theft from a vehicle is a crime that can very much be prevented.”
He feels the zero bail policy could have repercussions within the law enforcement system.
“There are many who are trying to find alternatives to incarceration,” said Incontro. “I support those alternatives, but there is a time and place to put people in custody. I believe it is important to have alternatives, but dismantling our current system without something else in place is wrong.”