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Hot prowler hits three homes, burglaries on rise


Last updated 6/5/2008 at Noon

Residential burglaries have risen 30 percent in the greater Fallbrook area the first five months of 2008 (57 incidences) compared to the same time period in 2007 (44 incidences).

While the increase is notable, the fact that three burglaries in the last two weeks have been perpetrated by hot prowlers (burglars who enter the home while a resident is inside) is especially worrisome to law enforcement officials.

“It’s disturbing because the likelihood of someone getting hurt is greater; the likelihood of someone getting confronted is high,” said Sheriff’s Detective Jim Pucillo. “We don’t know how a suspect or homeowner will react. A homeowner could be protecting their house or property and the suspect could be forced into a corner and pull a knife or gun and hurt somebody.”

Pucillo explained that it takes a “special type of criminal” to break into a house when they know someone is home and said that is what dramatically increases the risk.

“There is greater desperation to the act; it could be a drug addict looking for money,” Pucillo said.

The detective said it is his hunch that it is the same individual committing all the hot prowls, based on consistencies in the time frames the crimes have occurred and the items that have been stolen.

The incidences involving a hot prowler occurred May 13 on Palomar Drive, May 19 on Lake Vista Drive (Bonsall) and May 31 on Castlebay. In each case, the prowler gained access to the home through an unlocked window.

“When we have warm weather, some people have a tendency to leave a window open,” Pucillo said. “These burglars look for easy prey; they go for something that doesn’t create a lot of noise.”

Pucillo also explained that in each case the items that were stolen were easy to carry and conceal, such as cash, jewelry, cameras, iPods and other small electronics.

“Small items allow them to get out quick and doesn’t even make it necessary to have a large vehicle,” Pucillo said.

Another unusual occurrence, he said, is that some of the burglaries have occurred in gated communities.

All of the hot prowl incidents occurred during the night, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., and the residents asleep in the homes burglarized ranged from a couple to a family with children to grandparents hosting a grandson home from college for a weekend visit.

In one case, a father heard a noise and woke up while the prowler was inside.

“He left his bedroom and encountered the suspect in the kitchen, where he had stolen money out of a purse that was left in there,” Pucillo said. “When the prowler saw the father he fled out the back door and over the fence.” The unlocked window where the prowler gained access was in the kitchen.

“People need to be a little more vigilant about securing their homes and vehicles,” Pucillo said. “Out of all the burglaries we’ve had, very few have been through forced entry. The majority have been crimes of opportunity – unlocked windows and doors, especially side garage doors.”

Detective Pucillo said he advises residents to reevaluate the security of their residence by reviewing the exterior and identifying “weak points.”

“You should check the situation involving your outside lighting, if you have motion lights,” he advised. “Reevaluate the locks on your doors and windows.”

Pucillo said the best solution is to contact the Sheriff’s Department Crime Prevention Specialist, John McLelland, who will perform a free security consultation.

“It’s amazing what [McLelland] can show you insofar as how a criminal thinks,” Pucillo said. “You want to make it as difficult as possible so that [criminals] stay away from your place.”

In reviewing the burglary statistics, it is clear that the crimes are spread in a wide radius throughout the community.

“There is no one area that is more vulnerable than another, victims are scattered throughout Fallbrook, Bonsall, Rainbow and De Luz,” McLelland said.

Part of the problem, McLelland explained, is that longtime residents don’t feel the need to lock doors and windows in the village.

“Some people are not realizing this is not the Fallbrook of 30 years ago,” he said. “We have increased population and social changes. You simply cannot afford to leave your doors and windows unlocked. I urge people not to become a victim of a crime of opportunity by inviting a burglar into their home through an open window or door.”

McLelland also said criminals are essentially looking for the “easy hit.”

“A thief walks by and sees an open window or door; that’s one of the things he looks for. They don’t want this to be difficult,” he explained. “The window that is most commonly unlocked is the small bathroom window. People think that no one can fit through it. You wanna bet?”

“If [residents] will call, I can help,” he added.

Law enforcement officers have advised residents to pay close attention to what goes on in their neighborhoods and report all suspicious activity by calling the Sheriff’s Department communications center at (760) 728-1113.

If the situation appears to be an emergency, life-threatening or a crime in progress, call 9-1-1.

For a free security consultation, or to organize a Neighborhood Watch program on your street, call John McLelland at (760) 451-3124.


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