CORRECTION (Published 12/27/2013, Lamorinda Sun)

A story misstated the percentage increase of residential burglary crimes in Orinda in 2013. As of Nov. 25, Orinda had experienced 86 residential burglaries. That is a 53.5 percent increase from last year.

ORINDA -- One sunny November afternoon, Alison MacKenzie decided to take her dog for a walk. It was 1 p.m. It never occurred to her to turn on the burglar alarm.

But when the Orinda resident returned to her home about 90 minutes later, something was amiss. The kitchen pantry door was open; MacKenzie said she never leaves it open. Then she saw the room.

After gaining entry through the doggy door, the burglars pulled out drawers and pushed aside mattresses. Failing to remove the safe, they settled for prying open its metal door using a shovel and other tools they found at the home. While they didn't make off with much jewelry or other valuables, the thieves stole "every single possible financial and identity document" McKenzie had -- including the pink slip to her car -- before leaving through the French doors.

The police response was immediate. But when authorities dusted for prints, they found none. "They probably had been wiped clean," MacKenzie said.


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The Orinda resident shared her story with the city council Tuesday following a report from police Chief Scott Haggard detailing a spike in residential burglaries in the city. Orinda has experienced a 36 percent increase in the number of residential burglaries this year, despite less overall property crimes.

According to a crime analysis by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's office, from whom the city contracts for police services, Orinda had 88 residential burglaries in 2013 as of Nov. 25, up from 56 residential burglaries last year. Other county statistics show that many of the burglaries occurred without force, meaning thieves gained access through unlocked windows and doors.

Haggard attributes the rise to the realignment of the state's prison system and the release of "low level" prisoners into communities as part of an effort to reduce overcrowding and associated costs. The effect, he said, is being felt across the state and county.

It's also not exclusive to Orinda. Haggard said neighboring Moraga has seen a 56 percent increase in residential burglaries, and while such incidents are flat in Lafayette, auto burglaries and commercial burglaries have "skyrocketed," he said.

To fight back, the chief said police are attending neighborhood meetings to educate residents and make sure they're setting alarms and locking their homes and vehicles. Haggard also plans to fill by Dec. 31 a new crime suppression officer position. That officer will work a day shift, when the majority of the burglaries have been occurring.

The officer will be out in the community, driving in areas police consider "hot spots." While the burglaries are happening all over town, they're concentrated mainly in neighborhoods around the freeway, Haggard said.

That's where Marc Rovetti lives. His house has been broken into four times. On Tuesday, he thanked police for their timely response but asked for more officers on the street and backed a suggestion to place cameras at freeway ramps.

"I don't know if license plate cameras are the best thing, but I know something has to be done," he said.

MacKenzie also called on the city to ramp up its response. "The city has to do more to make it an unwelcoming environment for these criminals," she said.

The department staffs 11 daily patrol officers whom Haggard said all participate in crime suppression. The chief will return to the council in a few months to update them on his department's efforts, other cities use of freeway surveillance cameras and the possibility of using the county's crime suppression team, among other tactics.

"If you have officers around in neighborhoods, the thieves will go somewhere else," Haggard said.

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