Surveillance footage shows two suspects leaving the scene with a loaded trash bag in an August home burglary. Courtesy of MBPD
A woman returned home one evening in late August to find two intruders burglarizing her Manhattan Beach residence. They tied her up and held her at gunpoint. A few hours later, her father entered the house unaware of the situation. He too was tied up and held captive until past midnight, when the suspects finally left the premises with their valuables.
In recent years, burglars have coined a nickname for the city — the “Manhattan Beach buffet,” a jab at the affluent community’s proclivity for leaving doors unlocked. Manhattan Beach Police Department’s Chief Eve Irvine has said that 63 percent of home burglaries last year did not require forced entry. Some 90 percent of car break-ins could be prevented merely by locking the doors or stashing valuables out of sight.
Yet the August incident shook up the community like never before; after all, there’s a fine line between fear of losing valuables and fear of losing life. Hundreds of residents turned up at a community meeting the following month to relay their fear and to find some peace of mind.
Manhattan Beach Police Department’s Chief Eve Irvine called the gunpoint break-in extremely rare and unusual, but just two months later, another break-in refreshed the community’s insecurity and concern for safety. In November, a woman awoke in the middle of the night to find a burglar in her bedroom, where she was sleeping with her two children. The man, wearing a ski mask, had entered her home through a rear sliding glass door. She was ordered to stay in the bedroom while he ransacked the house.
“I can’t live like this,” said one mother of two infants at a City Council meeting following the August break-in. She said she was becoming paranoid, knowing well of the burglaries plaguing her fellow residents. The sight of her own shadow startled her, and she had begun looking at real estate in Orange County.
Home burglaries were unusually frequent this year in Manhattan Beach, although police maintain that recent crime rates pale in comparison to some 10 years ago. In 2012, robberies numbered around 30, burglaries around 200. “We’re seeing more but this is not abnormal to years prior,” MBPD Sgt. Paul Ford said in November.
Authorities believe that the recent spate of burglaries is symptomatic of a statewide issue. Assembly Bill 109, or the Criminal Justice Realignment Act, took effect in October of 2011 with the goal of alleviating California’s prison overcapacity of 187 percent by allowing criminal offenders convicted for non-serious, non-violent or non-sex-related felonies to serve their sentences in county jails. Under a new program called Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS), such offenders are now released into county supervision instead of state parole. Additionally, under Penal Code 1170, more than 500 crimes have been reclassified to not allow state prison sentences – only 70 such crimes remain on the books.
One problem, Irvine noted, is that county jails are at an overcapacity as well. As of August this year, 33,000 state inmates have been released early – 17,000 of them under the supervision of L.A. County.
Between 2012 and 2013, MBPD has arrested 36 PRCS individuals for a myriad of crimes, ranging from auto thefts and drug possession to burglaries and robberies. Five of them were arrested more than once by MBPD, she said.
It’s a classic case of the revolving door, Irvine explained. Because burglaries are considered non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual, such perpetrators are low on the priority list for the limited space available in the county jail. Even convicted individuals walk away after serving a shortened sentence, if at all.
MBPD has taken on the challenge with new preventative security measures. The Nixle Public Safety Program, which sends out to subscribers real-time crime notifications and related press releases, was rolled out in October. An undercover task force and x-ray units have been specifically assigned to deter home burglaries.
Irvine believes it’s imperative for the community to work together in combating these crimes. “Let’s make our community as hard of a target as we possibly can,” she said.