Nick Anciola has lived in a house on Pawtucket Avenue in south Modesto for 19 years. Until last month, his home never had been burglarized.
One morning about 11:30, Anciola and his wife returned to find their garage door wide open. He said burglars had broken the sliding door to the back yard to get inside and got away with a DVD player, jewelry, and two electric guitars and amplifiers.
Anciola, 60, said the burglars had started to fill his parked Jeep with appliances, two vacuums, weight room equipment and other items they couldn't carry.
"We weren't even gone for two hours," he said. "If we hadn't got back, they would have taken my Jeep, too."
Other residents in the neighborhood are just as frustrated. They say their homes have been targeted by thieves who burglarize in broad daylight.
The statistics seem to back up their concerns.
Modesto police say the area south of Hatch Road bounded by Ustick Road and Boise Avenue has seen a spike in residential burglaries in the past six months.
From April 1 to Sept. 30, 2006, 10 residential burglaries were reported, according to police. But from Oct. 1 to April 2, the same neighborhood reported 35 burglaries.
"It's more than tripled in that six-month period," Modesto police Sgt. Craig Gundlach said. "There's something going on. It's not anything fabricated."
Neighbors are banding together to find ways to protect their homes.
"That's the only way we can be safe, by watching out for each other," said Lilly Montelongo, 51, who has lived on Walpole Drive for 19 years.
Stalking homes late at night
Gundlach said that police investigators are trying to isolate any patterns in addition to increasing patrols.
Maria Madrigal, 42, lives on Dezzani Lane. She said most of the break-ins occurred when residents were at work.
"It's not happening at night," Madrigal said. "It's happening in broad daylight. It's mostly in single-story homes because it's easier to find out if someone is home."
She and about 30 other residents met with police officials last week to discuss the burglaries and ways to keep their homes safe.
The neighbors and police passed around safety pamphlets and sign-up sheets for the area's Neighborhood Watch program.
Madrigal and her neighbors said teenage boys from other areas stalk their homes late into the night. She believes nocturnal walks give them a chance to see what they can steal during the day.
"This neighborhood has been here for years, and suddenly the crime goes up in the last six months," Madrigal said.
The largely Latino, Spanish-speaking group of neighbors vented their frustrations about police response times, which they say range from two to three hours.
"We hear their frustrations and we're here to work with them," Gundlach said.
Enrique Sanchez, 55, said his daughter's house was broken into last month.
"There's been a lot of people who have been burglarized and nothing ever happens," Sanchez said in Spanish. "Why should we even call?"
1,762 burglary calls in 2006
Gundlach said every burglary victim should call police, no matter the circumstances. He said longer response times are common when dealing with residential burglaries and a large volume of calls for help.
Modesto police responded to 1,762 burglary calls in 2006. In December alone, they responded to 135 residential burglaries and 58 commercial burglaries, Gundlach said.
He said filing a police report is the only way the department can analyze crime trends.
Participating in Neighborhood Watch programs and following safety tips can help residents protect their homes.
Robert Vukas, 67, installed security cameras and an alarm system after his Boise Avenue house was burglarized the morning of Jan. 30.
The thieves stole a DVD player and a 150-pound safe filled with $7,100 worth of sports memorabilia, he said.
"They picked it up and took the whole thing out through the front door," Vukas said.
Anciola is adding protection to his home.
"I'm going to put in a security door and put some bars on my windows," he said. "I should've done it a long time ago."
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