SAN JOSE -- Fanning out across the quiet grounds of a sprawling condo complex, a small force of police cadets and civilian aides knocked on doors and distributed fliers Saturday morning in a new push to emphasize crime prevention and community awareness.
"Don't worry, nothing's wrong," 21-year-old cadet Shant Ghazarian cheerfully assured one young woman who opened her door with a surprised look on her face. "We just want to invite you to this meeting."
Residents of the well-tended Shadow Wood complex in North San Jose have reported a handful of burglaries and thefts in recent years. That's not the kind of violent crime that draws headlines or a major police crackdown, especially when San Jose's police force is reeling from cutbacks, resignations and early retirements that have shrunk its ranks to fewer than 1,000 officers.
But property crimes have risen sharply in the city over the last three years. And Capt. Anthony Ciaburro, who oversees field operations for the police department's central division, said he wants residents to know that officers are eager to work with them.
"As the police department gets smaller and resources get tighter, the community's got to get bigger. It's got to get stronger, and we've got to work more closely together," Ciaburro said, explaining Saturday morning's push to encourage attendance at an April 22 neighborhood meeting, where crime-prevention specialists will share tips on making homes safer from break-ins and thefts.
Higher crime rates near downtown San Jose mean the police tend to be called there more often, Ciaburro said, "but I'm trying to balance that and reach out to the community on the north side as well."
Though some residents weren't home or didn't feel like answering their doors, several said they were glad to see the uniformed cadets, including Ghazarian and 22-year-old Edward Carboni, who on Saturday worked as a team.
The cadets are volunteers from local high schools and colleges; they are unarmed but receive special training and help regular officers with routine duties, while learning about careers in law enforcement. Carboni, who will begin training as a full-fledged police officer later this year, said he was eager to share safety strategies such as locking windows, securing garages and installing outdoor lights.
"People were surprised, but they seem grateful to see us here," added cadet Michael Montes, 19. "Hopefully we're getting to meet them before they really need us."
"We'd like to see them here more often. But there's only so much they can do, and we understand that," said resident Teddy Soria, a 60-year-old cardroom worker who came outside after speaking with the cadets.
Soria said he's in favor of neighbors watching out for each other. He's tried to be more aware of strangers in the complex, ever since a burglar entered his ground-floor condo through an unsecured sliding-glass door a few years ago.
"He just grabbed minor stuff, whatever he could get his hands on quickly. But it was upsetting," Soria said.
A few buildings away, registered nurse Sherri Warshaw, said one of her downstairs neighbors also had a break-in last year. "I've felt safe here, but that was pretty brazen."
Still, Warshaw said she doesn't think police have the resources to do much about minor break-ins.
"If someone's screaming for help downtown (because they've been assaulted), that's going to be more important," she said. "But if the criminals know the police are paying attention here, too, that might help."
Mercury News staff writer Robert Salonga contributed to this report. Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey