Nearly one in four auto burglaries reported in Mountain View this year occurred in a small, triangle-shaped In-N-Out Burger parking lot off of North Rengstorff Avenue, according to data from the Mountain View Police Department.
The lot with roughly 70 parking spaces just south of Highway 101 has taken the unenviable title of most burglarized area of the city for years, but reported thefts outside the fast-food restaurant have skyrocketed in 2017. Of the 446 reported car burglaries in Mountain View so far this year, 101 occurred in the In-N-Out parking lot. Police say the close proximity to the highway gives thieves easy access in and out of the parking lot, making it easy to hit multiple vehicles and flee within seconds.
Reported auto burglaries in Mountain View are already up 25 percent this year compared to 2016, and it's only mid-October. Police received 446 reports of car burglaries, according to the crime-tracking website CrimeReports, up from 342 in 2016. There's also a three-year trend showing that thefts from vehicles are occurring in increasingly concentrated pockets of the city rather than widely interspersed throughout Mountain View.
In 2015, there were 475 reported car burglaries in Mountain View -- comparable to this year -- but only 26 thefts at the In-N-Out Burger parking lot. During a precipitous drop in property crime in 2016, thefts in the parking lot bucked the trend and actually doubled.
Other bustling areas in the city fell victim to a similar trend. Reported thefts in the Century Cinema 16 parking lots on North Shoreline Boulevard rose from seven cases in 2015 to 20 cases in 2016, increasing again to 30 cases so far this year. Commercial centers and major thoroughfares including El Camino Real (52), the San Antonio Shopping Center (31) and the downtown area (35) have also been prime targets for car burglaries.
The Mountain View Police Department is actively investigating the city's widespread auto burglary cases, according to police spokeswoman Katie Nelson, and is working with other agencies in the Bay Area to address the problem on a regional level. While Nelson said she couldn't go into detail about the department's Crime Suppression Unit and what they are doing to prevent the thefts, she said there's definitely a concerted effort to address the problem.
"Our department is working around the clock literally to address this, which includes enforcement and serious investigative legwork," she said.
Nelson said that the problem is not exclusive to Mountain View, and that other neighboring cities are dealing with a similar increase in car break-ins. As of Tuesday, CrimeReports shows that Palo Alto's auto burglaries were up to 668 cases so far in 2017, compared to 518 in 2016, with a huge portion occurring within the city's downtown corridor.
Mountain View's auto burglaries tend to come in clusters and can shift wildly from month to month, ranging from just 14 cases in May to 74 in August and 64 in March. Following a lengthy investigation into the In-N-Out parking lot thefts in March, detectives arrested two men suspected of burglarizing vehicles, which led to a violent confrontation. One of the suspects got into his vehicle and slammed into an occupied police car in an attempt to escape the parking lot, which left one officer with serious injuries, Nelson said.
Police are advising that residents lock car doors and windows, park in well-lit areas and never leave their car running in order to prevent auto burglaries as well as vehicle thefts. Drivers should also avoid leaving valuable belongings in the car including electronic devices, purses, wallets or credit cards, especially within view.
"The most tried-and-true method still holds: Don't leave anything in your vehicle," Nelson said. "It is much easier to ensure your personal belongings are safe by taking them with you than leaving them behind because you'll be gone for 'just a few minutes.'"
Police are also hosting an informational event on residential and auto burglaries on Nov. 7, including tips on what attracts burglars as well as ways to prevent burglaries. It is the first in a series of educational events hosted by the Mountain View Police Department, and is open to the public. The event will be held at 7 p.m. in the police department's auditorium, located at 1000 Villa Street in Mountain View.