He walked into his room.
The family’s jewelry was missing. So were Aguero’s guns. He looked around the house some more and realized his children’s video games were gone. So were the family’s computers.
Aguero’s house near Imperial Highway and Paramount Boulevard was burglarized.
In 2011, burglaries reached an all-time high in Downey, with police verifying 769 break ins at homes and businesses. It was the worst year of what seems to be a growing trend. In general, burglary has been going up the last decade.
And when it comes to stopping burglars, there’s no easy fix.
Neighborhood watch groups, statistically speaking, don’t help, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Alarm systems keep burglars away from individual homes, but not out of a neighborhood.
D.O.J. research shows that only a concerted, time-consuming and concerted effort involving neighbors and police has any real effect on decreasing burglaries.
Although burglary, by definition, is not a violent crime, residents should be worried when they see a spike in thefts from homes, according to Corey Ray, spokesman for the D.O.J.’s Community Oriented Police Services office.
“It’s a crime that almost always leads to something else,” Ray said. “They’re going to steal. And it’s money that’s going to go into drug trade. Or they get more violent. It fosters a lot of other issues.”
According to D.O.J. research, two factors are most likely to increase the frequency of burglaries. And Downey has both of them – in spades.
The first is proximity to a high concentration of youth, and the second is access from major thoroughfares.
The communities around Downey are composed of some of the youngest populations in the state.
Aguero thinks the people who stole from his home probably left on the 105.
“Downey is a little more affluent, with a middle class and some upper middle class,” he said. “Burglars just jump on the freeway and they’re gone. That’s why the call this the rose in the toilet. We’re surrounded.”
Burglary is a crime of opportunity, according to Downey Police Lt. Dean Milligan.
“They can just go door to door and knock, and if nobody answers, sometimes they’ll kick in the door. Other times they’ll just go around back and let themselves in,” he said.
Just last week the city put out an advisory about an elderly resident who lost $25 after letting a woman enter the home.
The woman asked if she could use the restroom and wash the home’s windows.
An accomplice was sneaking around stealing while the woman distracted the homeowner. The woman had an ‘M’ tattooed on her upper left chest, and she and the accomplice, who appeared to be a teenage boy, left in a dark-colored four-door sedan, according to police.
Downey Police officers are constantly patrolling in neighborhoods to look for suspicious people or vehicles, Milligan said.
“Our efforts are that, if they’re not engaged in enforcement activities, our expectation is our officers are patrolling residential areas,” he said. “The thought would be that they spend as much time as possible looking for suspicious vehicles.”
When police do catch burglars, the suspects are rarely from Downey, Milligan said.
“Most of them are from neighboring cities to the west of us,” he said.
So far this year, burglaries are down slightly compared to last 2011.
As of June 19, police took 291 burglary reports compared to 330 the same date last year.
Even if the rate were to remain the same, the city would have 630 burglaries this year – a higher number than normal.
The increase in thefts from homes has people talking, said Mayor Roger Brossmer.
“We’ve heard a lot of from residents, and it’s a major concern,” he said. “It continues to be a high priority for us.”
No matter what the data says about how difficult it is to stop break ins, the city is still responsible to make a dent in the number of break ins, he said.
“The bottom line is, none of its acceptable,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s not an easy thing to fix. It’s all over the city. The chief knows it’s out there, believe me.”
Brossmer thinks neighborhood watch groups, if people are active in them, should help cut down the number of burglaries.
“What I usually preach during neighborhood watches is: You know that retired person down the street? Bring them flowers. Bring them candy. Be their best friend. Let them know you appreciate them keeping an eye on things.”
At the very least, neighborhood groups make residents more likely to be nosy, Brossmer said.
“Here’s a true story that happened to me,” he said. “I see someone go into my neighbor’s backyard. I think, ‘I can’t talk about how great this neighborhood watch stuff is and not do it myself.’ So I stop. It turns out the neighbor was home and the guy was a painter. But I guarantee I would not have done anything if I had not been to a neighborhood watch meeting. If you get to know you’re neighbors, you’re safer.”
Studies show that when police respond to a report of a burglary in progress in less than two minutes, they have a far higher chance of catching suspects.
So, if a neighbor is concerned enough to call about a break in, officers have a far better chance of making an arrest. The problem, according to research, is that neighborhood watch participation is usually too low to make a difference in most neighborhoods.
Downey has more than 100 neighborhood watch groups, and the City Council members hope the high number will lead to more tips for officers.
According to experts, burglaries usually aren’t discovered until after a resident comes home, so there’s no good reason for police to rush to a home that has been broken into.
When it comes to investigating burglaries, solveability is the watchword, according to Ray of the D.O.J’s COPS office.
With big cuts to forces across the country, officers have to prioritize solving violent crimes.
Fortunately for police, burglars are often stupid, Ray said.
They can leave obvious fingerprints, or even blood, which could be entered into fingerprint or DNA databases of known criminals.
“A lot of these individuals are not the craftiest of people,” he said. “They sometimes leave that behind. The issue is just the cost of processing all that information and running it through the system.”
Prevention methods are expensive and time-consuming to implement, according to research.
Some cities have instituted building codes for better locks on doors and windows and for stronger doorways. Some have routed traffic so burglars have trouble finding their ways through neighborhoods.
Police departments often encourage residents to mark their property, which can alert staff at pawn shops that an item may have been stolen. The markings also make it much easier for officers to get convictions in court. But it’s extremely rare for people to take the time to mark commonly stolen items, such as tools, musical instruments or computers, according to D.O.J. research.
Having a dog seems to make a difference. So does having a small, hyper-vigilant neighborhood watch that targeted one very specific area, which police sometimes call “cocoon watches.”
Generic crime advice, like having police walk through a neighborhood to give house-to-house advice, didn’t seem to work. And it is also very expensive.
And stiffer sentences also had little impact on burglaries, according to research.
As for Aguero, he doesn’t think anyone will be caught for stealing from his home.
The thieves struck between 8 and 10 a.m., which, according to data collected by law enforcement agencies, is a very typical time for burglars to operate.
“These guys are bold and they are brave,” Aguero said. “They come in broad daylight.”
He drove around the neighborhood asking neighbors if they saw anything, but he didn’t have any luck.
Even so, Aguero believes that neighbors can help fight the problem. He once called the police about a strange person at a neighbor’s house, and police caught a burglar, he said.
He bought a better alarm system, but he said he’s really not sure the best way to prevent burglars from coming.
If anything, he hopes people in Downey would at least question door-to-door solicitors.
He said a group of nuns who live near his home recently failed to answer the door, and then they were surprised when a burglar walked in through a rear entryway. The burglar ran off, but the nuns were spooked, Aguero said.
With the recession seeming to only tighten its grip on the neighborhoods around Downey, he expects the number of burglaries to remain high.
“I understand that the economy sucks, but that doesn’t give you the right to steal,” he said. “Everything in my room that they didn’t take, I just picked it up and threw it away. It’s hard to describe how it feels. That’s my only place in my home that’s kind of my sanctuary. And it was violated. It just sucks. It makes you leery when you walk in your home.”