Locals say thieves are getting bolder. Do the stats back that up?

The social media posts about crime are seemingly nonstop: “Someone stole my Amazon package off my stoop.” “Be on the lookout for this suspicious person looking into windows.” “My car was broken into last night.”

And for neighborhood watch leaders, it seems it’s only getting worse.

“Last year was a lot of bike thefts and porch package thieves,” said Josephine Villaseñor, Wrigley Community Watch commander. “It’s still the same trend, but it seems now they’re getting a little bit bolder: cutting off locks of garages, you’ll hear somebody busted out somebody else’s window.”

To an extent, recent crime stats back up those perceptions.

According to the Long Beach Police Department, there was about a 1% rise in property crime during the first quarter of 2019. But broken down, the numbers show a 28.5% increase in residential burglaries, a 13% increase in garage burglaries, a 30.3% increase in grand theft and a 35.9% increase in petty theft of items less than $50.

But in the big picture, this is hardly a crime wave. Violent crime plummeted by 15.6% in the first quarter of 2019 despite more murders and rapes, stats show.

Violent crime (year-to-date)  2018 2019 Change
Murder 3 7 +133.3%
Rape 44 62 +40.9%
Robbery 260 238 -8.5%
Aggravated assault 373 267 -28.4%
Total 680 574 -15.6%

Data provided by the Long Beach Police Department reflects January through March

Auto burglaries, bike theft, grand theft auto, arson and petty theft of items more than $50 were also on the decline.

Despite those decreases, LBPD crime analyst Corinne Swart alerted West Long Beach residents to the rising trend in license plate theft that has correlated with a new state law that requires temporary license plates for new cars.

“And what I’m seeing more of is stolen plates on vehicles, primarily the front plates of the car,” Swart said. “And this is significant to me because how often do you really look at the front license plate?”

One resident at a recent community meeting told Swart that his mother’s front license plate was stolen and she noticed it only when a cop ticketed her for a missing plate.

Another common practice among car thieves is “cold-plating,” where a thief will take a license plate off one car and switch it with another and hope no one notices, according to Swart.

Some people also don’t realize they need both a front and back license plate, so if they notice the front one missing, they don’t report it, she said.

“I’m starting to look at locations where we’re having numerous vehicle plates stolen as almost similar to stolen vehicle locations,” Swart said. “So they’re drawing my attention and I’m sharing those locations with our patrol officers so they can be sure to drive through that area and look for any suspicious activity and potential auto thieves.”

Some residents have organized to try to combat what they see as more brazen thieves.

Property crime (year-to-date)  2018 2019 Change
Residential burglary 291 374 +28.5%
Garage burglary 77 87 +13%
Commercial burglary 156 167 +7.1%
Auto burglary 425 408 -4%
Grand theft 333 434 +30.3%
Petty theft > $50 181 246 +35.9%
Petty theft < $50 762 637 -16.4%
Bike theft 87 72 -17.2%
GTA 611 531 -13.1%
Arson 25 18 -28%
Total 2,948 2,974 +0.9%

Data provided by the Long Beach Police Department reflects January through March

Alex Phillips, a block captain for Belmont Park neighborhood watch, said she and her other block captains have a group chat and Facebook page where they report suspicious happenings in their neighborhood.

“When we see something, we say something to each other,” she said, citing a recent incident when a neighbor saw a man running down their street with an Amazon package who didn’t live around there. Sure enough, someone reported to them later that their package had been stolen.

Mail theft, patio furniture cushion theft and people trying to open car doors in alleys seem to be some of the most frequent happenings in her neighborhood, she said.

Sometimes it’s more organized than snatching something and running.

“They’re generally working in twos or threes,” Phillips said, recounting what she’s seen in security camera footage. “The first guy will open the car door, a second guy will clear it out and a third might close the door quietly. Video speaks: It’s amazing what you learn.”

For a detailed breakdown of crime stats, visit the Long Beach Police Department crime stats page.

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Valerie Osier is the Social Media & Newsletter Manager for the Long Beach Post. She started at the Post in 2018 as a breaking news reporter. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from the Cal State Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two cats.