Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Article: Hardened Targets

Written By: Deputy Aaron Hunt Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Rural Crimes Task Force
Published: July 1, 2020

With the country in seemingly ever-increasing turmoil, whether due to global pandemics or civil unrest, having a sense of security and peace of mind surrounding your home and property has likewise ever-increasing importance. Many of you have invested countless hours to decades of your lives towards managing a business, building a home, or raising a family here in Sonoma County. You deserve to experience a level of security where you are not impacted by the criminal element of society. 

Unfortunately, the criminal element of society disagrees with this world view and they have demonstrated the willingness to take advantage of opportunities to commit crimes against you and your property. 

What makes life easier for these criminals is when they are presented with a “soft target”.

Should a criminal decide they want to target your property for theft, vandalism, trespassing, etc., generally, certain criteria will first be considered. Those criteria can usually be boiled down to motivation, time, and opportunity. What is the motivation for the crime? Whether it be monetary gain, protesting against the manner in which you’ve chosen to make a living, or simply in search of temporary shelter to establish a homeless encampment, if you can create an environment which is less permissive to a criminal wishing to take advantage of your property, you may indeed solve a problem before one ever exists. If you make a criminal’s job too hard, you can remove the motivation they may have to target your property in the first place.

Another criteria that may be considered is time. If you are the owner or are tasked with the care of a large piece of property, how often is the current status of that land positively known? Quite often, Deputies are dispatched to the report of an illegal marijuana grow or homeless encampment which has been allowed to materialize because that sector of the property had not been surveilled in an extended period of time. You should not allow a criminal to feel as though they have all the time in the world to engage in whatever crime they have planned involving your property.

Creating a hardened target is in part, removing the opportunity for a criminal to carry out their crimes without being caught. To assist in creating a hardened target, several common sense methods and tactics should be considered. One of the most helpful to law enforcement is a quality video surveillance system. The advancement of technology in our current times has afforded many of us the opportunity to employ a surveillance system with live video monitoring which can often be transmitted straight to a cellular device or computer with internet access. Historically, video surveillance has played more of a role in catching criminals after the fact but only if the cameras were able to render a distinct vehicle description, license plate, or picture of the suspect. Often, video or picture quality was not sufficient to make an identification leaving any leads provided by the system inconclusive.

With the current technology available, several manufacturers have brought surveillance products to market which include high definition recording and live video feed transmitting which can send an alert to your cell phone when it detects movement. Often when a system such as this is in use and a trespasser appears in the view of the camera, a property owner can assess the situation, monitor the actions of the suspect in real time, and direct law enforcement to their exact location ideally resulting in the apprehension of the suspect before they have the opportunity to carry out their crime. In regards to remote rural properties, the installation of a wired or wireless video system may not be feasible. In these circumstances, the use of “game cameras” is usually your second best option. While you may not have access to a live video feed, the placement of these cameras in strategic locations that monitor likely avenues of ingress or escape may later provide law enforcement the information we need to pursue a suspect. 

These cameras should also be installed in a manner where they are concealed or at least not easily noticeable by a would-be intruder.

One of the most important and basic implements you should consider is proper “No Trespassing” signage surrounding your property. This serves as both a message to the more law-abiding unwanted guests that they are not welcome on your property as well as satisfies requirements we as law enforcement officers must meet in order to make an arrest.

California Penal Code section 602 (l);

Except as provided in subdivisions (u), (v), and (x), and Section 602.8, every person who willfully commits a trespass by any of the following acts is guilty of a misdemeanor:

(l) Entering any lands under cultivation or enclosed by fence, belonging to, or occupied by, another, or entering upon uncultivated or unenclosed lands where signs forbidding trespass are displayed at intervals not less than three to the mile along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering the lands without the written permission of the owner of the land, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession, and any of the following:

(1) Refusing or failing to leave the lands immediately upon being requested by the owner of the land, the owner’s agent, or by the person in lawful possession to leave the lands.

(2) Tearing down, mutilating, or destroying any sign, signboard, or notice forbidding trespass or hunting on the lands.

(3) Removing, injuring, unlocking, or tampering with any lock on any gate on or leading into the lands.

(4) Discharging any firearm.

Please note, there are additional subsections to Penal Code 602 and I would highly encourage you to familiarize yourself with the requirements and limitations of this section.

You may have noticed the subsection 602(l)(1) where it defines a violation for the refusal to leave a property upon the owner’s or agent’s request. However, what if the owner or person responsible for the property is not around to request a trespasser leave?

This is when it is advantageous for a property owner to have a Trespass Action Request on file with our Sheriff’s Office. Also sometimes referred to as a “602 Letter”, this is a form that can be found on the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office website, sonomasheriff.org under tabs services – trespass action. 

Once a property owner completes this form, it is then delivered to the Sheriff’s Office at 2796 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, 95403. Forms can also be faxed to 707-565-8811 attention: Records. Once this form is submitted and entered into the system, it allows a responding Deputy to make an arrest for trespassing without requiring the landowner or agent to actually be present to press charges against the perpetrator. I highly encourage any property owner who is having frequent issues with trespassers to complete and submit one of these forms as it affords us a valuable tool in resolving your trespassing problems. Please note, an order is good for up to one year and will need to be resubmitted after the expiration of the previous order.

Though there are numerous other topics for discussion when it comes to securing your property against threats, I will leave you with this. One of the most powerful tools someone working towards security can possess is a strong community. When I go to search a building where a suspect may be hidden, I do so with a partner who is watching my back while I also watch his. This same approach can be implemented among neighbors. While I was a patrol Deputy may not be intimately familiar with your neighborhood, farm, ranch, winery, etc, the people living in those areas are and they are more likely to recognize a situation that does not look right or which causes them to be suspicious. This intuition, when acted upon and reported, often times leads to the apprehension of criminals and the prevention of your neighbors from becoming victims.

Whether it be the implementation of technology, a heightened sense of situation awareness, involving your local law enforcement agency, or you and your neighbor having each other’s backs, there are several strategies that can aid in making you and your property a hard target.

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