Thieves target cars at complex near OCC

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeVehiclesEconomy, Business and FinanceTheftCompanies and CorporationsDoug Johnson

COSTA MESA — It's one of the biggest apartment complexes in the city and has among the highest rates of car break-ins, police say.

It's not a fact managers at the Camden Martinique apartment complex advertise, but over the last six months, police said its managers have made changes to security to shake that trend.

"Everything we've asked of them, they've done," said Costa Mesa police Cpl. Doug Johnson. "There's no complex (in Costa Mesa) if I haven't requested something they haven't done it."

Camden Martinique, at 2855 Pinecreek Drive, is across Adams Avenue from Orange Coast College.

With 714 units, it's also the most populated among several complexes in the area, with young adults, many of them OCC students, filling the units.

From Jan. 1 to the middle of October, there were 54 reported burglaries and thefts at Camden. Of those, eight were residential, 26 were vehicle burglaries where thieves broke a window or car door, and 20 were vehicle thefts where thieves opened unlocked doors.

Compare that with neighboring complexes: 24 vehicle thefts and burglaries at 2700 Peterson Place, a dozen of the same crimes at 1300 Adams Avenue and eight at 1250 Adams and 2885 Fairview Road combined.

Camden stands out only because it's larger and has more residents, thus increasing the potential for crime victims, said Lt. Bob Ciszek.

"It's not out of bounds, considering they have double the units," he said.

As students move in and out of the complex with school semesters, there's an ebb and flow to crime there, he said.

There were seven vehicles burglarized at Camden in July, 13 in August and 20 in September.

The complex's underground parking layout offers another opportunity for would-be burglars. Until recently, there were no cameras in the underground structure, leaving less for police to work with when a crime was reported.

Sometimes, according to police, it takes a high-profile crime to catch the attention of decision-makers of the national companies that often run large complexes.

Houston-based Camden was no different.

In May, police said then-Camden resident Daniel Wozniak, 26, befriended his neighbor three floors up, then killed him and a young woman. Police said the woman was killed on site in a fourth-floor unit. Wozniak has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court in February.

The case wasn't related to vehicle burglaries, or the parking structure, but was a wake-up call for the company to address issues police had been raising, officials said.

Within months, the company installed cameras in select areas throughout the parking structure, police said.

Earlier this year, officers wanted to see how the complex security guards worked. When they checked the guard shack, they found the security guard asleep, Johnson said.

Camden soon changed security companies and now has guards awake and patrolling full-time.

"We're doing what we can. We've done what we can," said Tim Gallen, spokesman for Camden Property Trust. "We continue to improve the systems as best we can."

The complex is taking a page out of the playbook Costa Mesa police have recommended to other complexes to reduce crime.

A former problem area for police was the 3400 Avenue of the Arts Apartments. That complex has 770 units and underground parking.

By adding an entry gate to the parking structure, security and cameras, officials said they've seen a noticeable drop in burglaries there.

"We hardly get calls there now," Johnson said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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