MODESTO -- After the first time Josh Gregoire's central Modesto home on Edison Avenue was burglarized, he added security screens on his doors.
The second break-in prompted him to install an alarm system.
Next, thieves pilfered power tools from his backyard shed, which meant repairs to his gate.
After the fourth burglary in two years, the 34-year-old architect bought surveillance cameras.
"The first time it took several months before I felt safe again," Gregoire said. "But eventually you start feeling numb about it."
It has been nearly two years since his house has been broken into, but burglaries in Modesto are on the rise in 2012, up 23 percent to date compared with last year.
Furthermore, Gregoire's part of town bordered by McHenry Avenue to the west, Coffee Road to the east, Orangeburg Avenue to the north and Scenic Drive to the south is one of the "hot spots" for thieves, according to burglary Sgt. Kelly Rea.
Six houses within a two-block radius of Gregoire's home have been burglarized in fewer than five months, including his next-door neighbor's.
Cameras, a laptop, silver dollars and diamond rings were among the items stolen from Jennifer Parman's home earlier this month. The most painful loss for Parman was the heirloom pendant that was made from her grandmother's wedding ring.
Citywide there have been more than 1,200 burglaries in Modesto this year. The reasons, say police, include drug addiction (especially an increase of heroin usage in the area), a bad economy and state prison realignment, which locally has led to the early release of county jail inmates.
Most of the burglaries are committed in the daytime by a pair, who will knock on doors to see if anyone is home, said Rea. If someone answers the door, they make up a reason for being there and simply walk a block down the street to try again.
Parman is part of the 2012 statistics, but has been burglarized two other times in the past five years. After the second burglary, like Gregoire, she had an alarm system installed. It hasn't been the deterrent either one hoped for.
Modesto police in 2006 stopped dispatching officers to burglary alarms after a study revealed that 99 percent of more than 800 burglary alarm calls officers responded to each month were false alarms.
The department implemented a verified response policy that requires independent confirmation of a break-in from a video or audio surveillance system, or a third party. The call still goes out to every patrol officer, and one will respond if available.
Parman is frustrated that the alarm system she pays $252 a year for did nothing to deter burglars at her home.
Her boyfriend was near Empire on his way to the house when he heard about the most recent break-in. He rushed home, but in the 20 minutes it took him to get there, the burglars were gone.
"I pay for this service that is supposed to help protect me, but it doesn't," Parman said. "I am having to figure out ways to come up with more money to invest in my house just to keep the stuff that belongs to me protected inside."
She will now likely buy the audio or video system, as Gregoire did after his house was burglarized the fourth time, even though a blaring alarm sounded with no impact on the thieves or neighbors.
Parman's neighbors said they didn't hear her alarm earlier this month, but a man who lives across the street told her about something he witnessed the day of the burglary that in hindsight seemed suspect.
Scott, who asked that his last name isn't used, said he saw a man and a woman in a gold Toyota park in front of Parman's house. The man got out and started looking through the trunk while the woman went to Parman's front door and knocked while yelling, "Hello, hello."
When no one answered, the two got back into the car and drove down the street. Scott saw the gold Toyota again a few minutes later when it emerged from the alley behind Parman's home. This time only the woman was inside. She returned to Parman's door to knock again before leaving for good.
That is exactly the type of suspicious activity about which people should call the police, Rae said.
The brazen daytime burglars are parking in their victim's driveways and hauling away their possessions, and too often neighbors walk or drive by and do nothing.
Rae said people don't call police because they feel they are being bothersome or that police won't respond.
But even if the call doesn't lead to an immediate arrest, it increases police presence in the caller's neighborhood, possibly deterring would-be robbers, and helps officers gather intelligence, police say.
In March, Modesto police started a burglary patrol detail to help combat the problem.
Uniformed and undercover officers saturated neighborhoods like Parman and Gregoire's. Earlier this month, they caught a man and a woman as they carried items from a home on Castle Street and Lucerne Avenue, just a few blocks south of where Parman and Gregoire live.
Officers regularly follow suspicious people, who often are found to have a warrant or be on probation or parole. They are arrested on charges like possessing burglary tools, drugs or stolen property.
Though it is difficult to quantify, the detail has certainly prevented burglaries, police say. Still, the burglary rate is unrelenting.
To truly affect it, Rea said, neighbors need to look out for each other and report suspicious activity.
It has been nearly two years since Gregoire's house was last hit, but he has not let his guard down.
Six months ago, he adopted a guard dog a black Lab named Feta.
After the first burglary, he started coming home every day for lunch to check on his house. During one of his visits recently, he saw on his surveillance monitor a man jump over his backyard fence. Gregoire went to his back window and when the man saw him he hightailed it back the way he came. Now Gregoire drives home by way of the alley behind his house before going to his garage.
A neighbor whose home was also burglarized multiple times moved recently, an option Gregoire has considered. Like so many others, he concluded "Not in this (real estate) market."
Parman continues to search pawn shops for her jewelry but is losing hope that she will recover her possessions or her sense of security.
"This, for me, was a huge blow to my personal safety," Parman said. "Every night I have to go in my bedroom and feel that presence of knowing there was someone standing right there next to my bed."
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2366.
Tips to help prevent burglary in your neighborhood:
Watch for people riding bicycles or walking slowly through a neighborhood who linger in front of houses.
Pay attention to pairs of people who are going door-to-door knocking. If you answer your door to a stranger and they make up an excuse like they are looking for a lost dog or must have the wrong house, call the police.
Take note of the vehicles that come and go through your neighborhood and call police if you see a vehicle that doesn't belong in the area. Also, take down a license plate number or note the make and model of the car if possible.
When in doubt, call police. If something or someone gives you a bad feeling, trust your instincts.
Equip your home with a burglar alarm with audio or video surveillance.
Get a guard dog and-or post 'beware of dog' signs even if you don't have one.
Keep your front porch light on at night and get lights with motion sensors or timers.
Secure gates with padlocks.
The Modesto police non-emergency number is (209) 552-2470.
To learn more about how to protect yourself or to set up a Neighborhood Watch, call (209) 572-9636.