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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 2:32 am | Fair 42º

 
 
 
 

Rash of Burglaries, Thefts Alarms Mesa Residents

Carol Hawkes, who awoke Monday to someone trying to enter her bedroom, isn't the only victim in the neighborhood; police say plans are in place to address the problem

Carol Hawkes awoke about 3:30 a.m. Monday to the sound of her bedroom door being opened from the backyard of her Mesa home. She jumped out of bed and found herself face to face with a young man she didn’t know.

He said he was looking for Joan, and Hawkes half-believed that he could have come to the wrong house inadvertently. He was in his late teens to early 20s and dressed like a typical college student — and the Mesa is right next to SBCC, after all.

But her common sense set in a second later. “I definitely felt like I was in danger,” Hawkes said.

She quickly shoved the sliding door shut and drew the curtains as the man ran toward the side gate he used to enter the backyard. She ran to the front yard, hoping to see which direction he would go once he left her yard.

As she came through her front door into the driveway, Hawkes said she saw another man run from her car, which he apparently had been looking through before she interrupted his work. The men ran to the corner of Del Oro and La Marina, where a few more people were gathered, she said.

Hawkes ran back inside to wake her husband, Emmet, who had been sound asleep, snoring through the whole thing in the bedroom upstairs. It all happened within a minute.

Emmet Hawkes then drove through the neighborhood looking for the men but couldn’t find them.

Their dog — a small, white, fluffy beast named Louie — didn’t wake even though he had been sleeping at Carol Hawkes’ feet.

He’ll bark for everything else, she said — including skunks and the mailman — but didn’t when a strange man tried to enter the house in the middle of the night.

Police weren’t able to find the men either, who clearly had been busy that night as many cars along Del Oro had their lights on and doors ajar when Hawkes ran outside.

This is the story of just one family in a neighborhood that lately has been seeing more and more thefts. The Mesa residents, spurred into sharing by an e-mail Hawkes sent explaining her experience, have come forward with many stories of attempted home burglaries and cars being rifled through.

Many would-be thieves have been chased off by confrontation, Hawkes said. However, the severity of the crimes — and the risks the perpetrators are willing to take — have varied.

One neighbor found his car propped up on boulders, missing all of its tires and wheels. His bedroom window had been open, too — but he hadn’t heard a thing.

Another found a stranger in the yard who had scaled a tall fence surrounding the property.

And after talking with neighbors, Hawkes learned that the “Joan” line has been used before, and some intruders have said they’re looking for “Emma.”

Lt. Paul McCaffrey, a public information officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department, confirmed that there has been an increase in thefts all over the city. He said police are aware of the number of thefts in the Mesa neighborhoods as well, and department leaders met Wednesday to discuss the issue.

“I can’t reveal the techniques we’re going to use,” he said, “but we do have plans in place to address this particular problem.”

As part of the department’s plans to deal with thefts in the area, police request the public’s assistance — and the best thing residents can do is protect themselves, McCaffrey said.

He said that although the attempt to burglarize Hawkes’ home sounded unsophisticated, he urged people to take preventive steps to protect their property.

“It’s surprising how many people are so casual about leaving their cars unlocked,” he said. “Why give someone that opportunity?”

He said using motion-detector lights and keeping doors, cars and gates locked can help deter intruders, especially since most crimes in the area have involved unlocked cars and doors.

A few people were arrested a few months ago for targeting unlocked cars in the area. It’s less serious of a crime, creates less noise and is less sophisticated, McCaffrey said.

He said the intruders are not career criminals; they’re doing it for a rush, perhaps, from getting something for free and getting away with it.

Many of the crimes may go unnoticed at first, especially in the middle of the night. “When people hear a noise outside, most wait to hear it again,” he said. “They don’t want to get out of their warm beds.”

On Hawkes’ block of Del Oro, there wasn’t a single broken window in the line of cars that had been gone through because many people had left their cars unlocked.

Hawkes’ car was unlocked in the driveway, although she said it’s usually locked when parked on the street.

Her bedroom slider door also was unlocked, but she said she is getting new locks and motion-detector lights installed and is considering an alarm system. “It’s not something I ever wanted to have, but I’m looking into it now,” she said.

The most unnerving thing for Hawkes was the fact that the family was obviously home — a car in the driveway, a hall light on and soccer equipment strewn on the front lawn were clear signs of occupancy — but the man tried to get in the house anyway.

“You know, we have four kids,” Hawkes said. “What if it wasn’t my room? What if it was my daughter’s room?”

Hawkes said she sent her e-mail because she hoped the information would be valuable to her neighbors. The neighborhood is very close, and everyone on the street watches out for one another, she said.

However, she and other residents say there could be better communication between the police and the public. Many people don’t report incidents because they have to go to the police station or they aren’t sure what warrants a 9-1-1 call.

McCaffrey said suspicious behavior should be reported, and that callers should provide helpful details, such as vehicle license plate numbers.

Telling people to “lock up” is not enough of a solution, Hawkes said.

“We shouldn’t have to live that way — scared to have the back door unlocked to let air in,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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