Rancho Santa Fe patrol chief urges residents to take crime prevention precautions


By Joe Tash

An increase in residential burglaries in Rancho Santa Fe this year has prompted a warning from officials for residents to lock their doors and windows, turn on their burglar alarms and call law enforcement if they see suspicious people or vehicles in their neighborhood.

RSF Patrol Chief Matt Wellhouser discussed the needed precautions at the Aug. 2 RSF Association board meeting, when he updated directors about the rise in burglaries.

From Jan. 1 through July 31, 2012, 24 residential burglaries were reported in the Covenant. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department, which includes an area larger than the Covenant in its recording of Rancho Santa Fe crimes, has logged 26 burglaries during that period, Wellhouser said. During the same period in 2011, 13 residential burglaries were reported.

Of the reported burglaries, 11, or just under half, involved forced entry, in which the burglars pried open a door or window, or picked a lock. In the rest of the cases, he said, the intruders simply came in through an open door or window.

Some residents may have grown complacent because of the relatively low crime rate in the Ranch, he said.

“Harden your target. Lock your house and turn the alarm on. That’s going to drive them somewhere else,” he said.

Wellhouser also urged residents to call the Patrol or San Diego Sheriff’s Department if they see anyone who doesn’t belong in the neighborhood.

Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Clayton Lisk, who is assigned to the department’s Encinitas station, said burglars often walk around residential neighborhoods and knock on doors to find out if anyone is home. If they determine the home is unoccupied, they break in, he said.

“We just need to get out there and talk to these people and find out what they’re doing,” Lisk said.

“Call us, call us, call us. Don’t wait until the next day, call us right away,” Lisk said.

In most cases, Lisk said, police have no suspect information to work with because the homeowners were out at the time of the break-in. That’s what makes it important, he said, for residents who do witness suspicious activity to call police.

Wellhouser said it appears many of the Rancho Santa Fe burglaries are related, based on such factors as the method used to break in the homes — when forced entry has occurred — and the type of items stolen, such as jewelry and electronics.

In one case, he said, four people were arrested when they spent the night in a vacant house after burglarizing the property.

Those four suspects were later linked to other burglaries in Escondido and San Marcos, said Lisk.

In another high-profile case, a rare Ford GT, valued at $250,000 was stolen during a burglary at a Rancho Santa Fe home. Last week, police arrested two suspects in the theft.

Wellhouser said residents should also keep good records of their property, including serial numbers and photos. That can help them get their property back if it is stolen, and also links potential suspects to specific burglaries.

Residents who see a suspicious person or vehicle can call the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol at 858-756-4372, or the Sheriff’s Department’s non-emergency number, 858-5765-5200.