Millbrae watch groups beat back area burglars 

The city’s neighborhood watch program has expanded in the last year, a trend that officials and residents credit for a decrease in residential burglaries so far in 2007.

Community Services Officer Chris Co said 27 streets in Millbrae have neighborhood watch groups. Co and City Manager Ralph Jaeck said the presence of these groups has led to not only a decrease in residential burglaries, but an increase in reports of suspicious vehicles on neighborhood streets.

With the exception of the grisly murders last year of longtime Lomita Drive residents Fernand and Suzanne Wagner, violent crime has never been a big problem in Millbrae.

But residential burglaries have caused concern in the community for years, culminating in 2005 when Millbrae police received dozens of calls from residents who wanted to start neighborhood watch programs in their neighborhoods, Co said. Asian residents in particular, often a target for residential burglaries, demanded more help from the police. The program has taken off since then.

"They know the area a lot better than we do," Co said. "They can tell us whether there is a strange car, a strange person casing the area, anything like that. We’re letting community policing take its course."

Police department data show there were 30 residential burglaries in the first half of 2006, while there have been 22 so far in the same time period in 2007. Residential burglaries in May and June in particular, months that typically have more crime than colder months, have decreased. There were seven and six such burglaries in the city in May and June, respectively, in 2006, compared with two and three burglaries respectively in the same months this year.

Leland Low, a Piñon Avenue resident and neighborhood watch member, said he and his neighbors formed the group last year in hopes of increasing traffic enforcement on the street, a popular walking route for nearby Spring Valley Elementary School.

"Millbrae is a nice suburban place but we shouldn’t assume that bad things won’t happen here," Low said. "We should always be aware of what’s going on, and it’s a lot easier to do that the more eyes and ears you have looking out for the neighborhood."

tramroop@examiner.com

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