Some of Oakmont's 4,500 residents say they feel under attack after a series of burglaries and other alarming instances of theft and aggression in their usually sedate Santa Rosa retirement community.
Burglars have hit at least eight homes since March, stealing jewelry and electronics, and in another instance made off with at least one catalytic converter from a parked car, according to police records.
With unease stalking the neighborhood, the question of whether to install surveillance cameras has spurred tensions among those who want added security and others who don't think cameras deter crime.
The issue brought a remarkable crowd to the Oakmont Village Association board's monthly meeting Tuesday, with more than 300 people filling two rooms at the Berger Center on Oakmont Drive.
"Neighborhood watches cannot do it all," said Pat Chapman of Pythian Road, whose home was burglarized in April. She said having her home broken into was "overwhelming and invasive" and demanded that board members do what they can to maintain property values.
"Potential residents will not move into a high crime area. Please approve the cameras," Chapman said.
Others among more than 20 speakers said they felt under siege and noted that residents of the 55-and-older community are more vulnerable than the general population.
"Fellow Oakmonters: we are under attack, we are sitting ducks," said Marcia Norris of Woodly Place.
Residents stood up and applauded comments that supported the use of cameras, an idea that dominated the meeting that stretched on for several hours.
At one point the crowd booed comments from skeptics of the proposal.
Board member Mark Randol cited numerous studies that found no clear evidence that surveillance cameras reduce crime. "We may spend all this money and crime may not go down," Randol said. "Then what will you ask of the board?"
Many heaved loud sighs during his presentation, leading board president Jim Kaiser to use the gavel to quiet them.
Kaiser appointed an executive committee of three board members that within two weeks must present a security plan, with or without cameras.
Kaiser warned that the police department is responsible for safety, not the association.
"Once we start assuming responsibility . . . once we've opened that barn door we can't close it," Kaiser said.
The first incident was reported March 17 when a catalytic converter was taken from a car on a Stone Bridge Road driveway, police said. Neighbors said motion detection lights didn't prevent the theft.
The first burglary was reported March 20 on White Oak Drive, according to RAIDSonline, a crime data website used by Santa Rosa police crime analysts.
The next burglary was April 19 at Chapman's home, followed by two each in May, June and July.
"That is pretty typical for any neighborhood in Santa Rosa," said Police Sgt. Mike Lazzarini, who runs the property crimes team.
Some were break-ins, and others involved unlocked doors.
Two other recent incidents also have shaken the community in eastern Santa Rosa.
On July 16, a 73-year-old resident shot a fawn at close range in his front yard, paralyzing the creature, which was later euthanized.
And on Aug. 18, an Oakmont resident was arrested on suspicion of chasing a cyclist and hitting him with his car.
"We have a very elderly population and I think when they hear these things . . . sometimes it is blown out of proportion," Kaiser said after the meeting.
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