How to Keep Your Eichler Secure Amid a Rash of Burglaries

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Eichler homes are beautiful, strange, and utterly Californian. They are light and bright and open. But they are not fortresses of security. Those old sliding doors, myriad windows, and low, easy-to-climb roofs make prime targets for burglars. And in the San Mateo Highlands, some crooks have been hard at work.

The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office has been warning Highlands residents since last fall to be careful of burglars, issuing their latest missive on a rash of thefts just last month. And they’ve got good advice on how to keep crooks at bay.

“We’re not pinning it to one person or one crew. A lot of people are hitting us at this point,” Lt. Larry Schumaker said. Three arrests last week nabbed suspected burglars in Redwood City and Menlo Park, but Schumaker said vigilance was still necessary. “We’re getting hit pretty hard right now.”

Realtor Glenn Sennett, a Highlands resident and Eichler specialist, explained the method of at least one team of burglars that includes two men and one woman. The woman will knock on a door, sometimes with a baby, to see if the homeowner answers. If they do, she’ll make up an excuse to leave, but if not, then the other two in the team will get out of the car, hop the fence, and start looking for unlocked windows. A ladder stored in a side yard can be used to reach the roof, where skylights are particularly vulnerable.

“They’ll grab a pillowcase. They’ll shove in jewelry, electronics, prescription drugs, whatever they can find. Then they jump in their car and take off,” Sennett said.

Sennett was hopeful the recent arrests would put a chill on criminals who get word of increased enforcement. But in the meantime, Schumaker has some tips for homeowners to make their Eichlers as unattractive to thieves as possible.

First, and this should be obvious: Lock all doors, windows, and sliders. “We had a few burglaries where they were just able to walk right in through unlocked sliding doors,” Schumaker said. Place a piece of wood or metal in the track of the sliding door or window so that a burglar can’t jimmy the latch. Store ladders, trash cans, anything someone could use to get on the roof, inside the garage.

Residents should be on the lookout for strangers in the neighborhood, and should not be shy about calling police if they see someone suspicious. Burglars don’t dress in black and carry bags with dollar signs on them. “We’re finding a lot of these burglars will knock on doors posing as construction crews, laborers, PG&E, and if people are not there they’ll break in,” Schumaker said. If a stranger comes to your door and you get a bad feeling about it, call the sheriff’s office.

Neighbors can do a great job of looking out for each other. Schumaker recommended getting to know those on your block, sharing your work schedule, and generally getting familiar with each other’s routines. If a neighbor knows you’re at work and sees someone at your house, they’ll be more likely to call the police.

Alarm systems and pets both make strong deterrents, Schumaker said. Anything that makes noise is likely to scare off a crook, and security cameras can help identify them later on. Now would be a good time to get a dog, if you’re so inclined. “Burglars, if they hear dogs, most likely will not go inside the house. They fear being bit or what have you.”

Finally, it helps to store valuables in a safe, and to document the stuff you have so that it can more easily be recovered. Jot down the serial numbers of things like computers, and take photos of jewelry. Cops can bring that information to pawn shops and it can help in retrieving stolen goods.

Sheriff’s deputies are available to come inspect homes for security weaknesses, Schumaker said. Residents can contact the department with the help of the Highlands Community Association, or directly by calling (650) 363-7676. After-hours contact numbers and more general information is also available at the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office website.