Six people were arrested in connection with the ongoing string of residential burglaries throughout the city of Ventura. The suspects are believed to be responsible for 300 to 500 residential burglaries since 2008, based on their methods, authorities said.

Antonio Espino, 21, John Michael Gutierrez, 18, Edwyn Hernandez, 18, Santiago Hernandez, 18, Luis Manuel Galvan, 18, and a juvenile, 17, all Ventura residents, allegedly operated as a burglary unit ransacking homes for firearms, jewelry, cash, flat screens and small electronics. The stolen items were fenced for cash or narcotics, said Sgt. David Dickey, Ventura Police Department Street Crimes Unit (SCU).

The street crimes unit began a comprehensive residential burglary investigation in December 2010. Leads and investigative methods identified the six now in custody as potential suspects.

Dickey said the suspects worked in groups of two or more, with a driver taking them to various neighborhoods. A press release issued on Tuesday, June 7, said the suspects targeted the hillside communities around Poli, Sunset, Hillcrest, Ondulando, and also Mid-Town Ventura, beach homes in the Clearview and Bayshore areas, and other locations from approximately 9 a.m., to 2:30 p.m. They went knocking door to door and when no one answered, the suspects would enter through an open side door, garage door, doggy door or window.

Search warrants related to these burglaries during the period of investigation led to the seizure of a half pound of methamphetamine, 32 guns, a variety of computers and gaming systems.

“We believe this group is tied in with some of these guns,” along with other residential property seized, said Dickey.

The press release said that during the second week of May, a citizen reported a residential burglary in progress in the Midtown area of Ventura. Officers and detectives responded to the scene and caught three of the suspects. Further investigation led to the additional arrests.

Each suspect in this group has been booked for residential burglary, conspiracy and possession of stolen property.

Recovered stolen property was returned to victims, the release stated.

Between January and March this year, there were 106 residential burglaries in Ventura, more than any other city in the county, a 47 percent increase compared to the same quarter last year, according to data from the Ventura Police Department. The suspects, authorities said, likely played a major role in the dramatic spike of burglaries.

“At its peak, there were two to three residential burglaries a day,” said Dickey.

Data shows that only the city of Oxnard had similar numbers, reporting 102 residential burglaries during the first quarter of 2011, a 25 percent decrease, however, for the same quarter in 2010. Oxnard also has nearly double the population of Ventura.

Ventura SCU investigates all property crimes in the city, and all narcotics and drug cases. There are currently six assigned officers in the unit. In 2004, Dickey had 11 officers in the unit. In 2010, the unit was cut to eight. Now, due to budget and staffing issues, the unit is down to six.

“The ability to effectively and thoroughly work cases has definitely decreased,” said Dickey.

In cases not related to the arrested suspects, Dickey said, there has been a rise in reported garage burglaries along Harbor Boulevard and in the Pierpont community, with mostly tools and bikes being reported as stolen.

“Remain alert, keep doors and windows locked and call in (to police) any suspicious people lurking in the neighborhood,” suggested Dickey.   

shane@vcreporter.com