Pacifica Police Chief Dan Steidle addresses the crowd at Thursday's town hall meeting. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Pacifica police reassure public over recent crime wave

A mini crime-wave that struck Pacifica and left residents on edge this month appears to be dying down, and police say arrests may be forthcoming.

In most cases, the recent crimes — which include burglaries, a police pursuit of a gold Jaguar following a strong-arm robbery, and even a brazen armed robbery at the Linda Mar Safeway — are not believed to be linked, although the burglaries may be related.

At a packed town hall event Thursday night, Police Chief Dan Steidle said police are pursuing leads, and acknowledged the lack of immediate justice can be frustrating for community members.

However, Steidle assured residents the Police Department is looking into the crimes and said the suspects are almost certainly traveling to the Peninsula from outside San Mateo County to commit the crimes. He also cautioned that police cannot reveal many details of an investigation to the public.

“There’s information when crimes occur that only the bad guys know, and when we interview suspects, they tell us things,” Steidle explained, adding that if a suspect reveals detailed knowledge of a crime that was not released to the public, it helps build a solid case against that suspect.

In Pacifica, there was one residential burglary in January, but 12 since Feb. 1.

A strong-arm robbery Feb. 10 led to a chase in which police followed a gold Jaguar to The City, but lost the suspects after they refused to yield for a traffic stop.

The town’s Rockaway Beach hotel district saw a restaurant burglary Feb. 12, and two car break-ins Feb. 16.

The armed robbery at the Linda Mar Safeway happened the night of Feb. 15 and made headlines around the Bay Area. Surveillance camera footage revealed a suspect wore a realistic, full-head prosthetic “old man” mask to conceal his identity.

Resident Tracy Cronin was in line buying groceries when the robbery occurred, and she described a surreal scene, with most customers and employees not realizing a crime was in progress.

Cronin said she first noticed something was amiss when the gunman slammed into an automated door as he exited the store. Then, Cronin said, an employee whose wrists were bound with zip ties tried to emerge from the nearby manager’s office.

“A female manager yelled at her to calm down and get back inside the office,” Cronin noted. “And the girl said, ‘I’m really scared.’”

As the events unfolded, Cronin said, she briefly wondered if she was seeing the effects of a prank gone wrong.

Steidle said the human mind has a tendency to rationalize and explain away such anomalous events, but that type of thinking might prevent residents from reporting suspicious activity.

“If you see somebody kicking in a door or climbing in through a window, don’t assume it’s because he lives there and forgot his key,” Steidle said. “Call the police and let us determine what’s going on— it’s what we’re here for.”

While some residents view the recent robberies and burglaries as being part of a larger trend, Steidle said the robberies are almost certainly unrelated to the burglaries.

In the case of the strong-arm robbery involving the Jaguar, Steidle said, the victim and perpetrators were known to each other. And the Safeway robbery fits a different profile from the residential burglaries, Steidle said.

Unlike the Safeway robber, Steidle said the suspects responsible for the home burglaries prefer to avoid any direct contact with their victims, with all the burglaries occurring on weekdays, between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., when residents are likely to be at work.

Law enforcement officials also don’t believe the Pacifica crimes are part of a trend affecting neighboring cities, despite speculation from residents.

San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Det. Sal Zuno said his agency has not observed any recent uptick in home burglaries in the communities it patrols. Those include Half Moon Bay, Millbrae and unincorporated parts of the county.

Daly City Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Ron Harrison said his agency has similarly not observed an increase in property crimes. South San Francisco and San Bruno police representatives could not be reached for comment.

At Thursday’s town hall meeting, Steidle emphasized that sharing information about crime and safety on a private social media site is not necessarily helpful to police if officers don’t have access to the site. Reporting suspicious incidents to police is much more effective, he said.

“You know what should be going on at your neighbor’s house and across the street,” Steidle said. “If you’re afraid of being wrong and you don’t want to give us your name, you don’t have to.”

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