Mayank Agarwal and his family thought a quick trip to Lake Tahoe in February would help alleviate the stresses and monotony that came with the last 11 months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Then, on the second and final night of their stay, Agarwal got a notification from their Ring doorbell around 9:48pm, showing four masked men leaving their home in the Almaden neighborhood.
“I was shocked and I panicked … from our security footage, just five minutes prior, they came to our cul-de-sac, broke in through our back sliding door, and decamped with a ton of valuables,” he says. “We just lost our life savings worth of valuables in this heist.”
Agarwal’s story is similar to other noted home burglaries over the last two months in San Jose and Los Gatos that have left residents on edge and police with few leads. An Evergreen home was burgled of nearly $250,000 valuables by a similar group, which disabled security cameras, KTVU reported last month. Agarwal, who has been following the break-ins, estimates at least $1 million has been stolen in recent robberies like his.
According to Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department Capt. Clinton Tada, there have been 17 residential burglaries since the start of 2021 in his jurisdiction. The majority included three to five suspects who often broke glass to force their entry into a home. Police think the break-ins may be related.
“For us, we link all of these cases together … all of these cases are under current investigation,” Tada says. “We’re obviously collaborating with other jurisdictions in our surrounding county—San Jose, Saratoga, Campbell—and seeing what other similarities they may have as well.”
SJPD spokesman Sgt. Christian Camarillo says the department has no additional information about the recent burglaries in San Jose.
San Jose officials have long boasted the city as the “safest big city in America,” and in years past it was recognized as such. For instance, it came in as the sixth safest city in America as of 2015, according to SmartAsset. But the city has since dipped, according to the finance, technology and data company. In 2019, San Jose didn’t make the top 35 in the same annual list as crimes in the city have increased slightly above both state and national rates—although before the pandemic, burglaries were on the decline.
Christina Valentine says she learned about the burglaries in her Alta Vista neighborhood when she and her fiancé returned from a weeklong trip to find their sliding glass door shattered and the sun room door kicked in.
She says an SJPD community service officer told the couple, “Oh, I was just at your neighbor’s house earlier today … same thing happened to them.”
Valentine says she asked a friend to check on the house during her trip, and the friend’s last visit to the home was on the same day of the attempted burglary. Valentine’s neighbor had a home burglary alarm, which reportedly sounded as the burglars went in and then out of the property without being apprehended.
Luckily for Valentine and her neighbor, nothing was stolen from their homes; the burglars left behind watches and prescription medication. But, after learning more about the burglaries via Nextdoor, Valentine says she’s still concerned that SJPD have not reached out with any updates.
“Ultimately, I think we all won’t have peace of mind until these four get caught,” she says. “The fact that it is a pattern and the same areas, and they haven’t been caught yet ... we’re all putting it together.”
Likewise, Agarwal says his frustration and shock around the burglary have been amplified by the lack of updates from SJPD. He provided four videos to the department for the investigation, he says, but got no response from officials.
“Police action has been very minimal,” he says. “I haven’t seen anyone be assigned to my case, or any activity or anyone reaching out for more information.”
Along with the city’s “safe” ranking, the number of sworn and authorized officers have declined in recent years. Cuts to SJPD staff began under former Mayor Chuck Reed and steadily dipped as the Covid-19 pandemic settled into the region and the public reacted to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, with some calling for reduced funding to the department.
Based on San Jose’s Annual Report on City Services for 2019-20, the city has 110 officers per 100,000 residents and, as of June 30, 126 sworn vacant positions for street-ready officers. Even so, response times have remained relatively steady, at approximately seven minutes per call.
By comparison, Los Gatos-Monte Sereno has 39 sworn police officers for 33,649 residents—a ratio of one officer per 863 residents.
But whatever the reason for the lack of communication, Agarwal says he’s taken getting to the bottom of the burglaries into his own hands. He has scoured Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Craigslist, Ebay and other re-selling sites to see if he can spot any familiar items. He’s also spoken to a private investigator, who told him that often jewelry is melted down to avoid the risk of being discovered as stolen property.
Nearly a month later, none of his family’s items have turned up.
Agarwal and his family, who moved to the neighborhood two years ago, no longer feel as secure in their home as they once did, he says. The family is considering moving.
“Some neighbors said this was the first burglary they’ve seen of this kind in 28 years, of this block’s existence,” he says. “We pay so much in taxes, and that money not coming back to us in the form of safety is the most frustrating part. … In San Jose, I have zero faith that the police will do anything.”
Valentine, a San Jose native who moved to her Alta Vista home in October, is working with neighbors to create a neighborhood watch group, largely in response to the lack of communication from SJPD, she says.
She brought up her concerns at a recent community meeting with San Jose council members, but says the topic only elicited ideas for temporary fixes.
“We’ve been trying to throw out ideas—do we hire private security, do we start a GoFundMe to put up a reward for catching these people,” she says. “We’re at least trying to build relationships with our neighbors to keep an eye out.”
Tada hopes residents in the area will “remain vigilant” and contact the police immediately about suspicious activity.
“It’s obviously of great concern to us that our small community is being targeted,” he says. “It’s something that we’re actively investigating and trying to deter from a patrol and investigation standpoint.”