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FOCUS: ORANGE COUNTY COMMUNITY NEWS | NEWPORT / COSTA
MESA / IRVINE: IRVINE

Neighborhood Trying to Tree a Burglar

March 11, 1998|LISA ADDISON

There was something about the trees that had Officer Christine D'Alena mesmerized.

While walking her beat in a neighborhood of University Park last week, she repeatedly glanced from one side of the street to the other, her eyes always returning to the trees.

D'Alena says that burglars, who have victimized the neighborhood for more than 19 months, breaking into 50 homes, could be anywhere--even in the trees.

Tall, stately pines line the streets in front and behind homes. The same trees that provide shade during the day become the perfect hiding place for burglars at night, allowing them to slip in and out of the neighborhood undetected.

While D'Alena points out dozens of spots where burglars might hide, residents walk their dogs, mow their yards and play with their children.

Neighbors who have become familiar with the sight of the dark-haired officer wave and call out, "Christine! Christine!"

But D'Alena, 29, is there because the neighborhood isn't as peaceful as it may appear.

Over the past year and a half, burglars have taken jewelry, electronic devices, stereos and cameras totaling more than $150,000.

D'Alena, who has more than 10 years of law enforcement experience, and is a two-year member of the Irvine Police Department, says the police know this much about the burglars:

* Jewelry is their favorite target.

* They may have lived in the area or have friends or relatives living there.

* They appear to be aware of police patrols.

"I'm always keeping an eye on every single thing that I can when I walk the area," she said. "We don't know where the burglars might be."

D'Alena has regularly patrolled the area on foot, set up informational meetings with residents, memorized the addresses of houses in the area; sat in bushes and climbed the trees.

While on her beat, D'Alena, in full uniform with her gun in a holster at her side, spends much of her time telling residents what they can do to prevent burglaries.

D'Alena said the common denominator in each of the 50 burglaries is the green belts, which she calls "burglar paths." Also, she said all of the homes that were targeted had other things in common, including poor outside lighting and no alarms.

On the first day she patrolled the neighborhood, she went door-to-door and introduced herself. Then, amazed that most of the residents didn't even know their next-door neighbors, she encouraged them to meet each another. She suggested they get home alarms. And better outdoor lighting.

Her tenacity paid off.

Today, alarm stickers and "Beware of Dog" signs can be seen at nearly every home in the neighborhood.

Shrubs have been cut back, locks are on garage doors.

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