Police are reporting an uptick in burglaries in recent months.
In Turlock, Lt. Ron Reid said, 37 homes and businesses have been burglarized since June 1. Modesto has seen a similar increase, Sgt. Garrett Crawford said.
The burglaries are taking place all over town.
"There's no particular rhyme or reason to the locations being victimized," Crawford said.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said his deputies are seeing the same trend in property crimes, particularly in agriculture thefts.
"It's metal theft, product theft, equipment theft," he said. "They're stripping wire from pumps and irrigation systems."
In the residential break-ins, burglars are taking a variety of items, including jewelry, cash, electronics and whatever they can carry.
In Turlock, 24 of the recent cases have involved forced entry, with 10 occurring because someone left a back door or garage door unlocked. Reid said police have made a couple of arrests recently, and are investigating to see whether the suspects are responsible for more burglaries.
"We had a burglary recently where a citizen watched a guy and then followed him in his car," Reid said. "He was throwing things out the window."
Police have managed to return some stolen property to the victims, but not a lot.
Reid, Crawford and Christianson said there isn't enough data to prove it, but they suspect that the state's prison system realignment, which delivered more offenders back into local jurisdictions, is to blame for at least part of the trend.
"There's no way to prove that connection, but that's the only thing we've seen change in the last few months," Crawford said.
Inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses such as property theft are returned to counties rather than doing state time. With sentence reductions and jail overcrowding, Christianson said, someone sentenced to a year behind bars will serve only a fraction of that time. In addition, a burglary conviction can no longer result in a state prison sentence, something Christianson said he finds "shocking."
Although they consider realignment a likely contributing factor, it's not the only factor, authorities said. Christianson blamed rampant drug addiction in the San Joaquin Valley.
"Who are the people doing this?" he said. "They're (methamphetamine) addicts.
It's an almost overwhelming problem."
He said his department is working with probation, social services and the district attorney's office on programs aimed at early intervention and breaking the cycles of addiction and violence.
For residents trying to avoid being victims, awareness is key.
Authorities advise residents to keep an eye out for suspicious people, join Neighborhood Watch programs and invest in alarms. And, above all, to lock their doors.
"Locking doors is the quickest, easiest, cheapest thing you can do to protect your home," Reid said.
"Lock it down, nail it down, chain it down, weld it down," he said. "Do everything you can to prevent becoming a victim of a crime of opportunity."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343.