More than 50 citizens — roughly two-thirds of them women — showed up Sept. 26 at the Point Loma Masonic Lodge for the monthly public meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council’s board of directors to find out what police are doing to catch the criminals responsible.
Three police representatives — community relations officer David Surwilo, service-area Lt. Natalie Stone and Det. Tom Jacques — were on hand to update the public and talk about ways to prevent crime and explain how the public can help catch the perpetrators.
In the process, police officials got quite an earful from citizens who say they’re afraid and want their community back.
“I’m worried. It’s at our doorstep and it’s scary,” said one woman who described herself as a 16-year resident who lives and works on Newport Avenue with a mother and aunt nearby. “I want to feel safe when I walk around my hometown. I’ve been calling cabs to go four blocks.”
The officers said they’re intensifying efforts to catch a Peeping Tom first reported in late spring along Saratoga Avenue who, after a lull of a few months, has reportedly resumed his spree and has raised the number of victims to seven.
At the same time, police officials said investigations are ongoing in connection with a female jogger who was groped by a man on a bicycle in mid-August along the San Diego River trail near Dog Beach, as well as an attempted rape a couple weeks later in the 5000 block of Muir Avenue.
Officials said the rape investigation is in the hands of the SDPD Sex Crimes Unit downtown, and Jacques is in charge of investigating the jogging victim. Meanwhile, more officers — in uniform and plainclothes police on foot, bikes and in cars — have been assigned to catch the Peeping Tom, Surwilo said.
“This has been a very hot topic for us,” said Stone, who joined the Western Division last month. “We’re very serious about this guy. As serious as you are about your safety.”
The peeping case has been difficult to investigate because only one victim has been able to come up with a description, Stone said. The others, she said, have only offered statements like, “I saw a shadow in my window,” or “I saw a male figure.”
“That’s not enough for us to make an arrest,” Stone said.
Officers are noticing open windows and blinds at night, which they said invites crime.
“This person is an opportunistic criminal,” Stone said. “When they have those opportunities to look in your windows, they’re going to do things like that.”
Police have released a composite drawing of the suspect and have two DNA samples, she said.
“We’re continuing to do the best investigations with the cases that we can,” she said.
Not everyone appeared convinced. Some residents expressed frustration with the lack of arrests stemming from the three crimes, and others said they suspected not all crimes were being investigated.
John Wilson, a relative of the near-rape victim, said he didn’t like police criticism after he printed wanted posters offering a $5,000 reward.
He defended his inclusion of two composite sketches that are not suspects in the rape case, and pointed out the poster makes it clear the composites were for other crimes.
“I’ll be happy [if we were] to catch any of them,” Wilson said. “They need to be brought to justice too.”
“I didn’t appreciate the flack I got for the poster. I raised the awareness on the situation. A lot more people know about it. I’m not going to stop looking for him until I find the guy, period,” he said, to a solid round of applause.
Others also backed Wilson’s initiative.
“If it hadn’t been for this young man putting posters around, none of the women at the club would have known about it until weeks later,” said Donna Bergerson, president of the Ocean Beach Woman’s Club.
Surwilo pointed to the website crimemapping.com, which allows the user to enter a ZIP code or address and see what crimes have been reported over a given time period. He also stressed the importance of reporting all crimes, even those too small to require an in-person police report.
Police need as many reports as possible to detect trends and put in place better staffing where needed, Surwilo said.
“Even if it’s a minor burglary, [report] it online or over the phone,” Surwilo said. “If we don’t have the numbers, we can’t get the staffing and we can’t provide the proper safety for you. It’s the only way we can be proactive.”
Police officials also offered tips for turning in witness reports. Surwilo said to be prepared to describe clothing, including hats, bandanas and colors. Notice specific characteristics of facial features, hair and tattoos. Note if they’re carrying anything, like a backpack. It also helps to start at the top and notice as many details as you work your way to the bottom.
Also notice the mode of transportation used by a criminal, whether it’s a car or a bike, and get the color, make, model and license plate. Get the direction of travel, too, Surwilo said.
“Think of us as having a seeing-eye dog and a white cane,” he said.
UNDER INVESTIGATION A review of the investigations discussed by police on Sept. 26 at the Ocean Beach Town Council meeting:
• Jogger groped, Aug. 15, San Diego River bike path
According to Crime Stoppers, a female was jogging on the south side of the San Diego river bike path between Sports Arena and Sunset Cliffs boulevards. A man on a bike reached down and touched the victim’s buttocks and he passed, hid from sight and came up from behind and groped the jogger a second time before fleeing toward Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.
Suspect description: White male, approximately 25 years old, 5-feet 10-inches tall, 160 lbs., with about four days of beard growth, freckles over the entire face and a gap between the front teeth. The suspect was riding a black road bike. A composite sketch has been released.
Information can be reported to Det. Tom Jacques at (619) 692-4833 or to the Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at (888) 580-8477. Anonymous email and text messages can be sent to www.sdcrimestoppers.com.
• Attempted rape, Aug. 25, 5000 block Muir Avenue
Police said the incident occurred shortly after 2 a.m. No composite sketch has been released. Family members have printed posters with a written description that accompanies two sketches unrelated to the case. Police said they believe the suspect was known to the family but have not ruled out a stranger.
Information can be called in to the police department’s Sex Crimes Unit at (619) 531-2210.
• Peeping case, May to present, Saratoga Avenue
Police said the first of the seven cases was reported May 22 when a female noticed a person at her window as she got out of the shower.
Three of the four cases involved the window screen being cut about 2 inches by 2 inches. All cases occurred from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Because of the proximity of the victims involved, police believe the suspect lives nearby.
A composite sketch has been released on the suspect, who is described as a white male between 22 and 28 years of age, between 165-200 pounds, between 5-feet 9-inches and 6-feet-tall. At the time of the incident, he was wearing a dark blue shirt or jacket and a dark colored beanie cap or hat that covered his hair.
Information may be reported to the San Diego Police Department’s Western Division at (619) 692-4800 or to San Diego County Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.
— Compiled by Tony de Garate