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Thermal imagers help Ripon Police check cars
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Ripon patrolman Trevor McGinnis talks with residents from his beat Area 3 as he takes a group on a tour of the Ripon Police Department Wednesday night. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON — Auto burglaries are at a minimum in Ripon’s Area 3 beat of mostly residential neighborhoods partly due to the fact the city’s police officers use thermal imaging devices at night to seek out cars that have been recently driven into the area.

Sgt. Tim Bailey told his audience in the police department squad room Wednesday night that he personally tries to drive every street in his area during the late night hours.  When he locates a questionable vehicle he will use his heat sensor to see if the car has been running in the past half hour.

With a check of the license plate he quickly learns if the vehicle belongs in the Ripon neighborhood or it is from out of the community like Stockton, Modesto or Sacramento.  Often times he and other officers have located prowlers bent on casing homes.

With the use of the heat sensor and following the sound trail created by barking dogs, officers have been able to ward off car burglaries and auto thefts in the southwestern section of the community, Bailey said.

The officer told of a gang who neighbors believed were involved in home burglaries.  Units responded to the scene and found all their suspects hiding in the dark -- with the use of their thermal imaging sensing devices their body heat showed white on the screen.

“If you get up to get a drink about 2 a.m. and see a car out in front, it more than likely is going to be us,” he told the small group of citizens.

Stolen cars alone amounted to only 30 in Bailey’s beat area since 2006.  There were 10 that year and seven in 2007, two in 2008, ten in 2009 and only one auto theft last year.

Property crimes in that five-year period included residential burglaries and all levels of theft in the area.  Residential burglaries totaled only 34 since 2006.  That year there were 15, eight in 2007, seven in 2008 and only four last year in 2010, Sgt. Bailey noted.

All thefts, that included the smallest shoplifting, totaled 244 for the five-year period studied in a community where nearly 500 law enforcement professionals from surrounding communities and the Bay Area call home.

“When someone takes something from you, it’s like they are taking it from use – we take it personally,” he said.  “We don’t want to find your car burned up in a canal somewhere.”

Officer Trevor McGinnis warned the residents at the Wednesday night session not to warm up their cars in the driveway before leaving for work.  He said the thief might just like the vehicle parked next to it and he probably has the keys in the running car in his hands – which vehicle to take is his choice.  In any event a vehicle will quickly disappear, he added.

Bailey told the group that auto burglars are focusing mostly on laptops as their choice, “because it has all your information.”

The Area 3 Beat also covers the Ripon Parkway along the Stanislaus River where officers notify homeless campers to move on – possibly to a homeless shelter in Modesto where they can get a hot meal.  They are given ample warning before their campsite is eradicated, he said.

Officers added that their prime concern is for area residents who might be jogging along the river and be confronted by a homeless person – proactive safety is their key concern with anyone who might assault a runner.  Boating under the influence, littering within 150 of the waterway and the taking of wild animals is also under their enforcement umbrella.

One woman told of driving up to the police department late at night with someone following her car.  She said she didn’t see anyone inside that she could go to for help.  Officers told her the front door is always open and there is a phone on the wall that goes directly to the dispatchers who would lock the door behind her.

Officer McGinnis took the group on a tour of the police department after more than an hour of the Area 3 presentation that included the dispatch center with its many MESH video screens showing a constant feed from cameras that are located around the community. There are 22 in the schools alone.