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Take your purse with you when you park and shop in Walnut Creek!

Or lock it in your trunk. That's the message from Walnut Creek police, who warn about car break-ins in busy parking lots and downtown garages.

This could happen to your car if a thief sees your purse, laptop, backpack, or other valuables in plain view.


We checked in with Walnut Creek police after hearing from a reader who became the latest victim in what’s becoming a typical crime in Walnut Creek: getting your car broken into, even in broad daylight, and even if you’ve just popped out of your car for a couple minutes.

The reader, Sara Runco of Walnut Creek, said that on Tuesday afternoon, while on her way to pick up her daughter at school across town, she decided to stop in at Heather Farm Park to use a restroom. It was about 3:30 p.m. She parked her 2007 VW Beetle at the lot at the softball and soccer field at Heather Farm Park. “The bathroom facility there: I knew it would be clean and open.” She had also been to this part of Heather Farm many times before because her kids do sports.

Runco said the lot was empty, except for a truck parked at the other end, unloading soccer gear. She said she left her purse—out of view, she believes, under the dash of her car, which has a black interior—locked her car and ran into the restroom. She said she was gone no more than a couple minutes.

When Runco came out, she found the driver-side window smashed open. An older man passing by had witnessed the crime. He told her he saw a smaller gold or beige SUV or Jeep-like car drive up right up to her Beetle. “A man hopped out, smashed open the window, grabbed by purse and sped off toward Ygnacio Valley Road.

Runco said the responding officer told her that this sort of crime is common and that it is happening to people in their driveways, when they are loading groceries into their car at grocery stores, and at ATMs. The police told her that the thief might have been “watching and waiting for someone to come along.” When the thief didn’t see her carry her purse into the bathroom, he probably assumed she had left it in the car. And he was right.

“The police also said that had I carried [my purse] into the bathroom with me, there is a good chance I might have been mugged,” Runco added.

Lt. Shelly James confirmed that these crimes “crimes of opportunity” have been happening in Walnut Creek more in the past few years. “Walnut Creek isn’t a small town anymore.” She adds that the recession might be prompting thieves to seize those opportunities more than ever and even in brazen ways, like in the middle of the afternoon in a public parking lot.

“It’s probably increasing with the economy,” she says. “People are more desperate and do these things than in the past.”

Although Runco’s car was hit while parked in a fairly empty lot, James said some thieves are attracted to crowded downtown garages or crowded lots at city parks and community centers. More cars mean more opportunities to find a good car to break into, one with a purse, backpack, laptop, or shopping bag left on a passenger seat. Yes, there is the risk of being seen—unlike a quiet residential neighborhood in the middle of the night—but, to the thieves, the risk seems to be worth it.

James, however, emphasizes that there is no big new crime wave or skyrocketing increase in auto burglaries. Statistics released by the city show the number of reported burglary and thefts increased about 7 percent from 2006 to 2007 and another 6 percent from 2007 and 2008. But last year’s number of 2,520 is lower than the 2,649 reported thefts and burglaries in 2005.

By the way, if you're unfortunate enough to be a victim of a car burglary, you can call Walnut Creek police dispatch at (925) 943-5844 or report the crime online at the department's website.