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Rash of Recent Window-Smash Auto Burglaries Reported

On a single night, the windows of the nine cars were smashed in and laptops and other items removed from the interiors of seven of the vehicles within only six minutes in the parking lot of the Fish Market eatery in Palo Alto.

The thieves typically will look into cars, on foot or on a bicycle, see a laptop or GPS device inside and break through a window to take the items. Credit: Patch archive
The thieves typically will look into cars, on foot or on a bicycle, see a laptop or GPS device inside and break through a window to take the items. Credit: Patch archive
Palo Alto police are investigating a rash of auto burglaries of electronics left inside cars, including the recent thefts from seven of nine vehicles broken into while victims ate inside a restaurant.

On Jan. 14, the windows of the nine cars were smashed in and laptops and other items removed from the interiors of seven of the vehicles within only six minutes in the parking lot of the Fish Market eatery at 3150 El Camino Real, Palo Alto police Lt. Zach Perron said.

The burglaries came a day after thefts from two other unattended vehicles, one at 1401 Webster St. and another at 420 Cowper St., according to Palo Alto police.

Auto burglaries are happening all over the Bay Area and are difficult to track because often the thieves smash the cars' safety windows that make very little noise when broken, Perron said.

"The challenge with auto burglaries is they are a regional trend," Perron said. "They happen so quickly, less than 10 seconds to grab something in plain view. The overall trend of auto burglaries is on the rise everywhere," Perron said.

Unless someone is looking directly at someone trying to break into a car window, it is hard to notice a burglary in progress, as some burglars may stand beside a car while pretending to be on a cellphone and break a window, Perron said.

"It is very rare for anyone, a cop or a citizen, to witness an auto burglary," Perron said. The burglar may use a blunt object like the butt of a screwdriver or even a piece of a ceramic spark plug that when hit against a window causes the safety glass to crack or "spider" and then the glass is simply pushed into the car, Perron said.

The thieves typically will look into cars, on foot or on a bicycle, see a laptop or GPS device inside and break through a window to take the items, according to Perron.

"There are electronics being stolen, nine times out of 10," Perron said. "These are things that are very easy to sell on the street."

Some of the victims in Palo Alto are people from out of town who have rented cars and then leave their laptops somewhere inside before going somewhere, according to Perron.

The best thing for people to do, even though it is not convenient, is to take laptops and other valuables directly into the restaurant or wherever they go and not leave them in the car, Perron said.

Placing valuables in the car's trunk can be a good idea, but burglars are also known to smash windows in order to reach in and flip the trunk open and steal what is inside, Perron said.

Palo Alto police arrested eight people on suspicion of auto burglary in 2013, which is "a good number for us" due to the difficulty of clearing such cases, Perron said.

Suspects are hard to catch because they do not leave fingerprints and or a trail of blood from the broken safety glass while simply "reaching in and plucking a laptop bag from the backseat," he said.

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