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Dont let opportunity knock for criminals
Lathrop Police Services School Resource Officer Andrea Lopez shows two samples of Neighborhood Watch signs that could serve as crime deterrents. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

LATHROP – Criminals only need opportunity to make you a victim. It’s up to you to deny them that opportunity.

“They already have the desire and the ability (to commit crime). All of us provide the opportunity,” Lathrop Deputy Andrea Lopez told the class of more than two-dozen Lathrop residents who braved a heavy downpour to attend the hour-long crime-prevention class offered by the Lathrop Police Services in the Lathrop Elementary School gym.

Desire, ability and opportunity are the three elements that create the perfect condition for a crime to occur, she explained.

Your car door left unlocked in the shopping center parking lot, valuables inside the car in clear view of every passerby and the whole world, and cell phones left charging in the vehicle whether it is locked or unlocked are some of the opportunities waiting for a thief to take action.

At home, some of these opportunities include unsecured and unlocked front doors or sliding back doors, trees and bushes in the yard where burglars can hide, and open windows, said Lopez who is one of two school resource officers serving in Lathrop. The other is Deputy Valerie Cardoza who was also a facilitator at the Tuesday night class, along with Lt. Chris Pehl.

A “very popular” crime being committed in this day of high-tech gadgets is called the “smash and grab,” said Lopez. In law enforcement parlance, that’s what happens when a thief simply smashes the window of a car then grabs the cell phone that the motorist left charging inside the vehicle.

“Do all you can to try and deter (crime),” stressed Pehl.

Guard dogs, alarms, programmed lights inside the home – “all the different (crime) deterrents, they all work,” said Pehl speaking from his experience working in the custody department of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office.

While these deterrents do not guarantee 100 percent effectivity, they do help in making sure “you’re not a target of opportunity,” he said.

“Something is better than nothing. Anything extra to insulate your family from the bad guy is an asset,” he emphasized.

The other advantage of these deterrents is that they give police “time to respond” to a call for service. In the case of a home alarm system, the deterrent here is the noise, he said.

“You want something audible and very loud to get people’s attention. Burglars don’t like loud noise because they attract a lot of attention,” Pehl said.

Neighborhood Watch as a crime deterrent

But one thing that the police could not emphasize enough to the residents is the importance of an aware and involved population.

“All of you are our eyes and our ears,” Pehl said.

Professionals are always watching people living in neighborhoods, trying to see who is moving in and out of their homes, and their comings and goings to work or to various errands. Once they get that opportunity to strike, they move in and take whatever valuables you have inside the house in a matter of minutes. Professional burglars can go in and out of a house in two minutes flat, said Lopez.

One way to fight crime in your neighborhood, she said, is to familiarize yourself with the people who are living around you.

“Do you know your neighbors? Do you know who they are?” Lopez asked.

Once you have gotten to know your neighbors, you can start keeping an eye on each other’s homes, she said. Criminals don’t target neighborhoods where neighbors are watching for each other, Lopez said.

This is where Neighborhood Watch groups come in, she said.

With Neighborhood Watch, “you are our extra eyes and ears. I can’t emphasize that enough. We need to be partners. We’re in this together,” Pehl said.

Lucius Davis, a member of a Neighborhood Watch, fully agreed. “If you’re concerned about your neighborhood, you need to put in a little time,” said Davis who belongs to the Lyons Homes Neighborhood Watch at the Stonebridge subdivision in the Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary School area on North Harlan Road.

“We, as a community, must work together,” added J. Chaka Santos.

Those who are interested in forming a Neighborhood Watch unit in their neighborhood can call the Lathrop Police Services at (209) 858-5551.