The rash of burglaries and break-ins in the plush hillside neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley has alarmed residents of the Tarzana Hills to the point where they are looking for ways to make their neighborhood safer.
This past week, nearly 50 residents got together in a large home on Dorlon Drive and they shared ideas on how to fight crime.
"How many people here have been burglarized or robbed?" asked Steve Fishman who was leading the discussion.
About 10 people raised their hands.
Some of the stories people told about being victims of crime sent a chill through the crowd.
"I left my house for one hour at nine o'clock just to go out to dinner with my brother. I came back one hour later and the place was wrecked," a man told the gathering. "They pulled paintings off the walls, threw them on the ground looking for a safe. They finally found my safe which had jewelry and money. The place was a mess," added the man who lives on Gale Drive, but didn't want his name used.
The burglars got into the house by breaking a window on a rear glass door.
A single woman who lives on Caladero Street described two incidents where she was victimized.
"The first time, I walked into the house and felt a rush of cold air. Then suddenly I noticed my sliding glass door had been shattered, glass was all over the floor. I immediately called 911 and police arrived quickly."
Nothing was taken, turns out the woman had entered the house when the burglar was still inside and he fled. A neighbor's security camera captured video of the suspect, who was wearing a mask and holding a gun. Police used the video to identify the man and he was arrested.
Several weeks later the same woman's house was burglarized by someone who kicked their way through the front door.
"The house was turned upside down. They took jewelry that has been in my family for a long time. It took half an hour for the security company to arrive."
No arrests made in this case, the jewelry never recovered.
The crowd at the meeting was warned that sometimes strangers will canvas the neighborhood, or people will come to the door and make up a story in order to be allowed inside the house.
A couple returning from a vacation in Hawaii related how their housekeeper told them that while they were away someone came to the house asking to be allowed into the home.
People at the door told the housekeeper, "We were told to put up the holiday lights." She did not let them in, the men then went next door and told the same story. They were not invited inside.
"The number of break-ins and burglaries in the Tarzana Hills has actually declined since earlier in the year," said Senior Lead Officer Daryl Scoggins of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley Division.
"In January and February we had 15 or 20 per month, then things quieted down. Recently, it picked up a bit with 4 in November and this one in December," added Officer Scoggins. "Of course, one is too many."
Police have been urging residents to form neighborhood watch groups and to monitor comings and goings in their neighborhood. One suggestion that came up at the Tarzana meeting involved situations where residents make it easy for outsiders to know that the house is empty.
"Sometimes when you ring a doorbell the message at the ring box tells you ' Sorry we're not home right now, please come back later.' That's an invitation to a burglar because it tells them that the house is empty," said Jilliene Schenkel.
"Often when people leave on vacation, the newspapers delivered to the home just pile up in front of the house," said another woman in the group. "That's also a signal that lets people know that the house will be an easy target."
"If you are going on vacation, it's a good idea to have someone housesit for you," said another resident.
A number of suggestions were advanced at the meeting. Several people favored putting up a Neighborhood Watch sign. There was also a discussion about installing several video cameras on the two streets that allow access to the hillside area in Tarzana.