Rancho Santa Fe hit by string of residential burglaries


The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol are working to raise awareness about a series of residential burglaries in Rancho Santa Fe.

At the Feb. 1 Rancho Santa Fe Association board meeting, Rancho Santa Fe Patrol Chief Matt Wellhouser encouraged residents to report suspicious vehicles and people right away, lock homes, turn on alarm systems and check front gates.

“The sheriff’s department and the RSF Patrol are all on high alert, we investigate and go out to every suspicious person and vehicle call,” said Detective Debra Hutches, adding she believes that citizens being aware and making a call will be the way they are able to catch the suspects.

Hutches said since August, there have been about 12 residential burglaries in the Rancho Santa Fe area as well as 10 in Olivenhain, the eastern-most portion of Encinitas.

“I think there is a pattern, I’ve walked every property, I’ve talked to every victim,” Hutches said. “There’s definitely a MO (modus operandi) with the suspects that we’re looking at and, at this point, we’re exhausting all leads.”

The suspects are hitting right at dusk -- Hutches said 4:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. is the peak time. In this cluster of crimes, Hutches is not including the home invasion that occurred on Jan. 13 on Stonebridge Lane, just outside the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant, when four armed men wearing masks entered the home and bound the victims.

“I feel that home invasion was isolated,” Hutches said, noting she feels the crime was somehow connected to the family or business. “Home invasions are very rare, especially in this community, so I’m not going to tie that home invasion into the regular residential burglaries that we’ve had.”

Surveillance has shown that the suspects are three to four black males, driving a rented SUV with paper plates. The suspects do not appear to be armed and are stealing money, cash and jewelry – no electronics or anything that can be tracked GPS-wise. In one case they took a 600-pound safe.

“They’re a little bit sophisticated,” Hutches said, noting the suspects wear masks and gloves.

Only one house broken into had dogs—a home on La Jacaranda had two German shepherds that were pepper-sprayed by the suspects.

Hutches said the intel that the department has been receiving indicate the suspects might be a group of gang members out of Los Angeles. After five months of working these cases, she said, “We have some things in the mix which I can’t disclose so hopefully we’re going to get a break soon and be able to catch these guys.”

One resident said his parents’ home on Los Morros was among the ones hit and he complimented the sheriff’s department on their response and investigation. He said following the Dec. 1 burglary, they conducted an audit of their home alarm system and found that two motion sensors were not working. The suspects broke a window that did not initially trigger the alarm and the motion sensor in that room was malfunctioning so there was time before the alarm finally sounded, alerting the RSF Patrol.

He suggested that all residents consider an audit of their alarm system and not take for granted that it’s working. The County Sheriff also has crime prevention specialists that offer a free home security inspection service with tips on how to improve security of your home or business.

Hutches also advised people to invest in quality surveillance cameras that show color and night-vision—the images from that residential burglary are among the best she has in these cases.

Hutches said in all of these cases, no one was at home and, in a handful, people were out of town.

“Make your house look lived in,” Wellhouser advised.

“Until we catch these guys or it stops, we prefer you park at least one car in your driveway or make it look like somebody’s home because out of all those residential burglaries, not one time have they hit one when there’s car in the driveway or it looks like someone is home,” Hutches said.

If you see any suspicious activity in your neighborhood, call the SD County Sheriff’s Department’s non-emergency dispatch at (858) 565-5200. The RSF Patrol can be reached at (858) 756-4372.

For those interested in a free home security inspection survey, contact Gary Rivers (760) 966-3587 or Gary.Rivers@sdsheriff.org or Jonathan Simon (760) 966-3588 or Jonathan.Simon@sdsheriff.org