LIVINGSTON -- A determined operation to reduce burglaries here is paying off.
Burglary totals have been declining in Livingston over the past year, falling from 14 or more per month in the first part of the year to single digits since July.
Those figures include residential, commercial and vehicle break-ins.
Police Chief Ruben Chavez said soon after he came aboard in March, he worked with others in the department to develop a burglary action plan. He credits his sergeants and other officers with making that plan work.
By May, burglaries had dropped to 11 from 14 in April and 18 in March.
"When I got hired, one of the main complaints throughout the city was the rampant burglaries," he said.
Chavez's plan involved himself and other officers going door-to-door to educate residents about what to be aware of and encourage them to call police when they notice something suspicious.
As officers canvassed neighborhoods, they also handed out crime prevention fliers with information in English, Spanish and Punjabi -- the three languages predominantly spoken in Livingston.
The department did saturation patrols in problematic areas of town in the daytime when most of the burglaries took place, Chavez said.
That effort coupled with probation sweeps and other detailed steps played a role in driving the number down.
"I'm actually really happy with the results," he said.
Councilman Gurpal Samra said there's an improved connection with residents and the Police Department since Chavez's plan has been implemented. A greater percentage of burglary victims are reporting the crimes.
"I think there's a lot better communication, obviously," he said.
It wasn't long after Chavez got the job that Samra sat down with him to relay concerns he'd been hearing from residents. Not surprisingly, burglaries were No. 1 on that list.
"People were asking the council what we were going to do about it," said Samra, who noted that Chavez's proactive approach has had a noticeable effect since those concerns were raised.
City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez said Chavez has been able to open a line of communication between the department and residents.
"He's empowering people, telling them they can do something," Ramirez said.
Residents also haven't been at a loss for information from their chief of police.
"The chief has been a community-oriented type of police chief," Ramirez said.
"He's been actively walking the streets, talking to businesses and residents."
But even with the department's focus on burglary prevention, officials are cautioning residents about a possible uptick in burglaries with the holiday season approaching.
It's common for burglaries to spike from November (23 in 2011) to January (24 in 2012) as criminals target expensive gifts people may leave at home or in their vehicles, and Chavez plans to include a flier in an upcoming water bill cautioning residents about possible threats.
And while several burglars have been arrested and jailed in recent months, Chavez said the effort to keep crime down will have to continue as capacity limits at local jails are triggering the early release of some offenders.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or email@example.com.