After two home invasion robberies last month in the Flintridge area, locals are asking what more can be done to combat crime, as city and public safety officials respond with increased patrols and the promise "we're on it."
Stephanie Arnold, a neighborhood watch captain who lives on Encinas Drive, is encouraging residents through Facebook to voice their concerns with city officials directly and increase vigilance at home by forming or joining a watch group and communicating with others about suspicious activities.
"There's been a total uptick of comments and people talking about, 'What do we do?' on Nextdoor.com and Facebook," Arnold said Monday. "Residents who are on edge are going to ask why we are not spending more. You could ask to budget more, but I think it's bigger than that."
Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station Capt. Chris Blasnek said Monday detectives are investigating a Dec. 31 armed robbery at a home on the 800 block of Flintridge Avenue as possibly being connected with an earlier home invasion that took place Dec. 12 on the 800 block of Inverness Drive, less than 1 mile away.
In both instances, the victims were approached by multiple suspects wearing ski masks, gloves and dark clothing, at least one of whom was armed with a handgun. Victims were tied up at gunpoint and left while the suspects ransacked their properties and made off with cash and, in the Flintridge Avenue robbery, a vintage handgun.
"I believe the home invasions are connected," Blasnek said. "I don't have a crystal ball to say who they're going to hit next, or who they are. Basically, I need residents to call us and be alert — start looking up, start looking around you, start making eye contact."
Arnold, who said she's always been vigilant about looking for and reporting suspicious behavior on her street, said La Cañadans need to be more involved in the process.
"This is a great community, but a lot of people want to mind their own business," she said, indicating that people who do speak up are sometimes criticized or labeled racist on social media. "I will always speak up. If I didn't speak up and something bad happened to someone, I'd feel horrible."
The neighborhood watch captain said she's considering attending the Jan. 22 meeting of the Public Safety Commission.
Public Safety Commissioner Marilyn Smith said the city has been working closely with the sheriff's department to help mitigate the effects of state laws that reduce punishment for nonviolent offenders. In addition to helping inform citizens how they can better protect themselves, the city has offered two rounds of homeowner rebates through Ring.com to purchase video doorbell alarms and is contemplating a third.
"La Cañada Flintridge is not isolated in its public safety concerns," Smith said in an email interview. "But the facts show that the city is dedicated to ensuring our residents receive excellent services and tools with the goal of reducing exposure to crime."
For example, Smith said, although residential burglaries in La Cañada have decreased 22% in the past five years, the city's annual contract with the sheriff's department this fiscal year was increased by 3.782% to $3.5 million, including $185,000 for additional directed patrols to be used at the city manager's discretion, according to city documents.
Blasnek confirmed Monday additional units were out patrolling city streets. Additionally, all vehicles with paper license plates — a common modus operandi for suspects looking to avoid identification — will be stopped by deputies.
"These guys are covering up their plates. So we are stopping everybody with no (permanent) plates on their cars," said Blasnek, adding the move is one of several new efforts being undertaken.
"I'd like the public to trust in us," he added. "I'm just asking them for their trust and wanting them to know we're on it."