Just hours after James Whitaker was arrested for a smash-and-grab burglary at a southeast Fresno doughnut shop, police detectives meeting to discuss his connection to eight similar crimes saw him amble past their office window.
"Hey, there he goes now!" said a detective.
Whitaker is a face of the serial burglar in Fresno -- he had been arrested at least 12 times but quickly released, enabled by an overcrowded jail that puts "non-violent" offenders back on the street almost as soon as they are booked.
Police say he and others are at least a partial cause for a spike in Fresno burglaries, up 9% this year, although the crime is on the rise in several other central San Joaquin Valley communities as well. In Madera County, there is a 24% hike, and in Clovis, a 26% increase.
Never miss a local story.
Whether the cause is early releases, the recession or a combination of factors, the shock felt by victims can be intense when they discover a kicked-in door at home or window glass covering a car seat.
"It seems like nobody really cares about these types of crimes anymore," wrote Cheryl Spaulding in a comment about the arrest of a woman who along with a male companion was involved in a series of vehicle burglaries in early December, including Spaulding's sister's car. "I know my sister feels so victimized, angry and violated."
Spaulding said her sister's car was broken into while she was in a gym in north Fresno and her credit card was later used at a grocery store. Several days later, the man was arrested after trying to sell stolen rims on a website. She said police found some of her sister's property in the trunk of the man's car.
The Fresno burglary trend is similar to the better-known issue of car thefts by catch-and-release criminals such as Tino Tufono, who was arrested multiple times for car theft before police say he graduated to homicide.
Sgt. Mark Hudson said Whitaker, the accused smash-and-grab burglar, also stepped up to a more serious crime recently -- in his case, bank robbery last week.
Hudson calls Whitaker's robbery arrest an "uncomfortable emerging trend involving prolific criminals being released back into the community, only to commit more violent crimes."
Fresno County Jail releases also draw blame elsewhere: Madera County Sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart attributes at least some of the rise in burglaries there to "overspill" from the Fresno jail.
"It's up [here] because the crooks don't know Madera County doesn't let people out," she said.
As in the case with car thieves, the Fresno County Sheriff's Office says it has no choice about the early releases.
Undersheriff Scott Jones cites a federal court order that leaves the department no options when jail capacity is reached. He also cited the recent change in state law that shifts to counties the responsibility for incarcerating many "low-risk" inmates.
Given the choice between a burglar and a violent offender, it's a no-brainer, Jones said: "If I have someone with an assault with a deadly weapon, they stay."
Outraged by the audacity of some of the repeat crooks, some victims are fighting back. In Fresno's Tower District, hundreds of people have joined a Facebook page where they share information about burglaries and other crimes and warn one another about local criminals.
Some burglary victims are taking more direct action. Last week in southeast Fresno, Amandeep Singh had just opened his market near Jensen and Cedar avenues when he heard someone walking around on his roof. When he went outside to check, he spotted a burglar trying to make off with a portion of his air conditioner.
Singh and several customers surrounded the building to prevent the crook from getting down until police arrived. Arriving officers took the man into custody and told Singh that the man would be charged with several felony charges. A day later, Singh spotted the man walking by his market.
"What can you do?" Singh sighed.
The attempted burglary happened just two days after another criminal broke into Singh's market and took hundreds of dollars in quarters from an arcade game. It turned out that the burglar was one of Singh's customers. Singh spotted the man digging up the quarters from the back of an abandoned house next door. He and a good Samaritan held the man until police arrived.
It was a tough week for the store owner.
"It's tough every day," Singh corrected.