When senior Smita Iyer returned home from cheer practice on Mon., July 25 at 6 p.m., she was met with an unusual sight — police cars on her street. She ran inside and asked her mom why there were so many cops outside.
Roopa Raman, Iyer’s mom, stepped outside when a police officer approached her.
“Ma’am, your neighbor got broken into,” he told her, Raman remembers him saying.
How?, she thought. In broad daylight? When all the neighbors were home. How could nobody realize?
“This was shocking,” Raman said. “Nothing like this happens in our neighborhood.”
This, however, was just the beginning. Raman heard of four other break-ins within the following month in her neighborhood near Hoover Park. Immediately, Raman and her family built a peephole into their front door, bought security cameras and even considered getting a dog.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, Cupertino’s property crime rate increased by 6.6% from 2014 to 2015, a noticeable difference when compared to the general downward trend that has occurred since 2011. Community members suspect this rise in theft is tied to a specific portion of Proposition 47, a ballot initiative passed in California, which classifies “non-serious, nonviolent crimes” as misdemeanors, which, in California, result in only a maximum of six month county jail time.
These misdemeanors include theft under the value of $950. In a CBS Bay Area article, Public Policy Institute of California researcher Magnus Lofstrom finds that in the first half-year of Prop. 47’s implementation, property crime rates increased in Californian cities like San Francisco.
Although, Deputy Lee Hickinbotham of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office believes the crime rates in Cupertino have been consistent with the past, he said there is reason to believe that Prop. 47 may lead to more break-ins.
“I do believe [crime] comes in waves,” Hickinbotham said. “There are certain times when there seems like there is an increase in burglaries and then there are times when it seems like there hasn’t been a burglary for a couple weeks to a month.”
According to Hickinbotham, studies and statistics have shown that Cupertino, Los Altos and Saratoga have some of the lowest crime rates across the state and even the nation in general.
“We are a full-service department,” Hickinbotham said. “We will respond to everything [reported], and I think that’s why the number[s] are actually lower in Cupertino and Saratoga than anywhere else.”
Because of these lower numbers, senior Yiting Li’s family decided to move to Cupertino six years ago. They wanted Li to pursue an education at MVHS and thought of Cupertino as one of the safest places to live.
A few months ago on Mar. 9, that perception was shattered. Li remembers the day distinctly. She had a free fourth period during block day, but decided not to go home for lunch. She came home after school to police cars and broken glass.
“It was a mess,” Li said. “I put a few valuable things in my room and it was all gone, and all of my mom’s designer bags…I was just shocked.”
The sheriff department was unable to recover any of the lost belongings, so Li’s family took extra measures to avoid the same situation in the future. They installed a lock on their back door along with security cameras, but ultimately, they decided to move away from Cupertino after Li’s graduation this coming June.
In the future, Li hopes to see the community stand united in these situations, but she believes that it will be difficult.
“People never take [theft] as seriously, compared to if someone died,” Li said. “They never pay enough attention to the small things. That’s why it escalates to major crimes.”
While the police were not able to recover Li’s belongings, they were successful in recovering some items in Raman’s neighborhood including passports and other important documents.
Hickinbotham stresses the importance of a neighborhood watch in keeping streets safe and crime rates low.
“Don’t be paranoid, just be aware,” he said. “Be aware of your neighborhood, be aware of your neighbors, be aware of what kind of car generally pass[es] by your neighborhood.”
After Raman heard about the five different break-ins, she decided it was time to take action. Raman is planning on becoming a Neighborhood Watch leader for the welfare of her neighborhood. Weeks after the first break-in, Raman walked around her neighborhood passing out flyers and alerting everyone about the Neighborhood Watch. Her neighbors piled out of their houses to support her cause.
One of the men joked, “We will be the sheriff of the street. Every morning, I will patrol this neighborhood from 11 p.m. to 1 p.m.”
Another man joined in, “And I will patrol from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.”
The neighbors laughed.
“With these crimes, the positive side is now we feel like it is time to get to know our neighbors,” Raman said. “We are all in the same state of ‘What’s next? Maybe next time it will be my home?,’ so we all have to watch out for each other.”