34 home burglaries in 35 days: Is Irvine still one of the safest cities in U.S.?

IRVINE, CALIF. -- WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 11, 2016: North Lake Park, in the Woodbridge community, in Irvine, Calif., on Aug. 11, 2016. Kelli Peters, of Irvine, former school volunteer at Plaza Vista Elementary, fell victim to Jill and Kent Easter, a power couple who planted drugs in her car, trying to get Kelli fired from Park Vista. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A view of North Lake Park in the Woodbridge community of Irvine. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Can you still claim to be one of the country's safest cities if thieves are burglarizing your residents' properties on a daily basis?

That's the dilemma Irvine finds itself in lately, having endured a spate of break-ins in February and March. The Irvine Police Department posted a "burglary awareness notice" Saturday on Facebook, disclosing that 34 residential burglaries had been committed over the previous 35 days — a revelation that appeared to dent the city's image as a haven against crime.

On Tuesday the police department went into damage-control mode, issuing an online statement that attempted to reassure residents that the Orange County hub “remains one of the safest cities in the country.”

Irvine, with a population of 300,000, named itself the nation’s “safest city” for its size for an 18th consecutive year this October. The police and city came to that determination using FBI statistics on violent crime — murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — and comparing the results to those in other cities with similar populations.

“Maintaining the safety of our city is at the center of everything we do,” Irvine Police Chief Michael Kent said in Tuesday's statement. “We are committed to using proactive policing strategies, while leveraging technology and public communication to identify and arrest criminal offenders.”

Irvine Mayor Farrah N. Khan and Vice Mayor Larry Agran did not respond for a request to comment.

Police spokesperson Sgt. Karie Davies confirmed that the timeline for the crimes was from Feb. 9 to March 14.

Irvine Police said seven burglaries appear to have been undertaken by professional crews. Three other thefts were classified as "unique circumstance" since the perpetrator had approved access into the residence as a guest or service provider.

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There were also more garage burglaries, 18, than break-ins into living spaces.

Irvine Police said in its Saturday post that there were two trends among the burglaries. Thieves were vigilant about monitoring and often knocked down or disabled home security cameras.

The other common aspect was that several burglars climbed onto second stories and entered vulnerable homes through windows or doors.

“Please call us if you see suspicious people in your neighborhood or walking in open spaces behind homes,” the message read.

Davies confirmed that the burglaries happened citywide as opposed to specific areas, and the times of the day varied. None of the burglars were armed, Davies said, and there were no injuries.

Despite the crime wave, the police department said Saturday's revelation “does not change” the city's status as a safe place.

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“The original post was intended to be an awareness for our community,” Davies said.

Irvine Police noted that residential burglaries are down over 15% compared to last year at this point.

Police said their deterrence efforts include drones, a directed enforcement team that targets specific crimes, and surveillance from the department’s criminal investigations division.

“We also work closely with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to ensure successful prosecution,” Kent said.

Irvine Police offered some safety tips that include maintaining a security system with cameras, installing security film on all glass doors and windows, locking all doors and windows, varying light timers to make it seem a home is occupied and using a sliding window lock.

Other steps include neighborhood communication and vigilance, making an inventory of valuables and securing them, and registering bikes.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.