Burglaries are up in Clallam County, including a news-making rash of break-ins that took place this fall in Sun Meadows and the Woodcock area near Dungeness.
From Jan. 1 through Nov. 1, 2011, there were 239 burglaries in the county; through the same period in 2012 there were 315. That’s a 32-percent increase in one year.
Within Sequim city boundaries a similar jump has taken place, with 45 burglaries through the first 10 months of 2012. In 2011, there were 33.
In an ideal world, the police would be proactive — seeking out criminals and criminal opportunities before the crimes take place. Sheriff Bill Benedict says the law enforcement budget in Clallam County doesn’t allow that.
In fact, he said, at any given time there may be just four officers patrolling the vast expanse of Clallam County.
His office is busy; altogether the county receives 24,000 calls a year.
The Sequim Police Department also is stretched; at any given moment there may be as few as two officers on duty.
While technology has provided a boost to law enforcement, it isn’t a panacea. Benedict noted that DNA testing was vital in capturing a suspect in an assault that took place this summer along the Discovery Trail.
But the technology has its limits, he said.
Plus, it’s expensive to use. “It’s $400 per sample,” he said, with multiple samples required for each case.
The sheriff’s office may turn to DNA evidence, but not for minor crimes, he said.
More often, to solve crimes — and to prevent them — “we have to rely on the public,” Benedict said.
Detective Sgt. Lyman Moores, who serves in the sheriff’s office, said law-abiding citizens can help by being “difficult victims.”
That means making it harder for the bad guys to do their dirty work.
Moores noted that during the recent spate of crimes in Sun Meadows it was reported that 20 cars had been “broken into.”
That’s a misnomer, he said. “They were unlocked.”
The one car that was stolen?
“The keys were in it.”
He called the thefts and burglaries “thefts of opportunity.”
Moores said many of those living in Clallam, especially the “old-timers,” haven’t caught on to the new realities of life on the peninsula, including the epidemic of drug abuse.
Moores, who has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, said in recent weeks he’s spent more time speaking with heroin users than ever before.
“These are 18- to 25-year-olds,” he said, “with track marks up and down their arms.”
He also noted that a few arrests go a long way. “We have a few people who commit a lot of crimes,” he said.
Sequim Detective Sgt. Sean Madison said while the spike in burglaries is a concern, it should be kept in perspective. “In 2011, only 11 of those involved homes,” he said. “In 2012, only 12 involved homes.”
“There are a lot of things that are called burglaries,” Madison added. “If someone walks into your shed and takes an old bicycle, that’s a burglary.”
In Sequim it’s rare for someone to break into a home in the middle of the night, he said.
“Of the homes broken into this year, four of those have resulted in arrests,” he said. “So it’s still a pretty safe community.”
Moores also noted that across the U.S. crime rates have been dropping since 1988. The recent spate of burglaries is simply a spike in what has been a long-term positive trend.
Benedict echoed that comment, saying that overall crimes perpetrated on people, including violence, continue to trend downward.
The one glaring exception, he noted, is the number of homicides that have taken place in Clallam County in 2012.
“We usually have one or two,” he said. “This year we’ve had five.”
Moores said the recent spike in burglaries is largely driven by three factors.
The first, he said, is drug use.
Another powerful incentive is the price of gold. With gold selling for just less than $1,800 an ounce, and with the relative ease of selling it to gold dealers, that creates a powerful incentive to steal jewelry.
He said two young Clallam burglars recently grabbed as much as $40,000 in loot in just two months’ time, most of it gold.
The other incentive for thieves, he said, is advanced knowledge of substantial accumulations of liquid assets.
He described a case in which the grandchildren of a local couple bragged at school how much money their grandparents kept in a safe at home.
The grandparents soon received an unwelcome visit.
The good news, Moores said, is most of the local burglars are “incredibly unsophisticated.”
That means with a few simple precautions taken by residents can greatly reduce their chances of being ripped off.
One excellent way, he said, is by establishing a Neighborhood Watch program.
These programs have proved time and again to be powerful deterrents to crime, he said.
To establish a Neighborhood Watch Group, contact the Community Oriented Policing Unit or the Neighborhood Watch Coordinator at the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office. Phone 417-2376.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.
Take a bite out of crime
Lorraine Shore, community patrol services coordinator for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, has a message: Don’t make yourself an easy mark.
Here are her words of advice to avoid being a crime victim.
• Organize a Neighborhood Watch Group so your neighbors are aware that if they see something suspicious, they need to call 9-1-1 immediately!
• Order Neighborhood Watch signs — they’re a major deterrent to criminals. “They don’t want to commit a crime where they might be seen,” she said.
• Lock all doors and windows on vehicles, garages, sheds and homes.
• Light up your home using motion-sensor lighting. Indoor timers on lights will indicate to thieves that someone is home.
• Surveillance cameras “are pretty inexpensive and law enforcement can use the photos to prosecute the burglars. Great evidence!”
• Identify valuables!
• Take a digital photo of the items on every wall in the home. A web-based e-mail account (gmail, yahoo, etc.) is a great free place to store photos — just mail them to yourself.
• Photograph jewelry on a white towel with a ruler so it can be identified. Have valuable jewelry appraised so the thieves can be prosecuted for the amount they stole as well as made to pay restitution for that amount. “It also helps immensely when trying to get insurance companies to reimburse the victims for the proper amounts.”
• Write your Washington driver’s license number on anything you want recovered: TVs, laptops, cameras, weed eaters, chain saws, etc.
“There are so many items auctioned off each year that should be returned, but there’s no way to identify the owner.”
• Use safe-deposit boxes for valuables — don’t let your priceless heirloom jewelry be stolen!
• Get a post office box or locking mailbox! “The holiday season is here and the mailbox thieves are at it again. Check your mail immediately after it is delivered and don’t have packages delivered to your home if you’re not there. The thieves will follow the UPS and FedEx trucks and take the items off your porch.”
• Dogs are a great deterrent. Buy motion sensors that emit dog barking if you can’t get a dog.
• Get an audible alarm system so if the thieves break into your home, they will leave before taking your items.