Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the increase of burglaries in Addison County. The second part will focus on the state police’s new crime fighting tool.
ADDISON COUNTY — A Weybridge homeowner left her residence for an hour and locked every door in the house. She’d heard about area break-ins and her family was taking precautions.
“We were really locking our doors for the first time after 25 years in Vermont,” she recalled.
“We got hit anyway.”
When she returned that afternoon, the homeowner, who asked not to be named so as not to draw more attention to the house, found that thieves had kicked in a door and stole “tens of thousands of dollars worth of stuff,” including irreplaceable 19th-century jewelry.
Her story has become all too common in Addison County as of late. Police say that reports of home burglaries have spiked, particularly in the northern half of the county. They say that burglars are casing homes in rural areas and striking on weekdays while people are away at work.
Zev Langenauer said he feels “violated” after his home in Addison was broken into on Jan. 18. The burglary happened despite the fact he had two German shepherds in the house — the assailant got into a room to which the dogs did not have access.
Michele Kelly said her Addison home was burglarized on that same day or the next, and she reported jewelry and electronics were stolen. It was “the same MO as (a home burglary in Panton), the Weybridge break-in and the (burglary in Bridport),” she wrote in an email to the Independent. All of those crimes happened during the same day this past month.
Bill Brooks arrived at his Route 7 home in New Haven after work on Friday, Jan. 11, to find his door kicked in and many valuables stolen, including a precious silver tea/coffee service. “My house is right on the highway and that didn’t deter them either, or maybe it facilitated them,” Brooks said.
A Vermont State Police database shows that troopers at the New Haven barracks fielded 16 reports of home burglaries during the first four weeks of January — 15 of them from the northern half of the county, and most of those west of Route 7.
Don Jochum in Addison has not personally experienced a burglary, but he said, “I do not feel for a minute that my home is immune. I know several of the recent victims.”
He said he could not say exactly how severe the problem has become, “I can tell you, though, that I seem to be hearing about more and more burglaries than ever before.”
Jochum has organized a Community Crime Forum that will be held next Thursday, Feb. 7, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Addison Central School. The intent of the forum is to have an open discussion about crime in Addison and throughout the county, to brainstorm ideas on how residents can help law enforcement and themselves to be more aware, and to determine if community members want to start a neighborhood watch program and what that might look like. Representatives of the VSP, Addison County Sheriff’s Department, Vergennes Police Department and State’s Attorney’s Office have committed to attend and participate.
Anyone who wants more information is asked to contact Jochum via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He said on Wednesday that the forum seems to have struck a chord and he expects 80 to 100 people to attend.
Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel has seen an uptick in suspicious activity in his city. A law enforcement officer for more than two decades, he said that while he thinks burglaries are increasing, he said the problem is cyclical. Jewelry and small valuables are the current targets of choice, but the state over the past several years also has seen (and continues to see) a wave of thefts of copper wire and plumbing — another commodity that is easily sold for cash, that can then buy drugs.
“It’s all drug-related,” Merkel said.
VSP Lt. Gary Genova, commander of the New Haven barracks, agreed on the motivation of the burglars. He noted that at least 70 percent of the perpetrators are involved with drugs.
“That’s a conservative estimate,” he said.
Police said scrap metal dealers have been helpful to police investigations in to thefts of copper and other metals, and brokers of jewelry, collectibles and guns are becoming more cooperative.
“As we put them on notice, I think they are becoming more cooperative,” Genova said.
Police and victims of burglaries have suggestions for homeowners to protect themselves and their neighbors:
1. Be sure you lock the doors of your home and never leave your keys in your car.
“The days of leaving your door unlocked in Vermont are gone,” the Weybridge homeowner said.
2. Use deadbolt locks for added security. One resident said this is important even on doors with windows because, she speculated, the recent burglars don’t want to alert neighbors by breaking glass.
3. Put your valuables away if you don’t use them, and never leave them in plain sight in an unoccupied car.
4. Take steps when someone comes to the door and asks for a seemingly random person. Police say you should take down the license plate of person’s car, noting the date and time, and phone it in to the authorities.
“People have got to pay attention to this because it is just the way it is,” Merkel said. “Police officers will never tell you to confront a person, but definitely take down the license plate.”
Anyone with information on a crime is asked to contact VSP at 802-388-4919. Information can also be submitted anonymously online at www.vtips.info or by texting “CRIMES” (274637) to Keyword: VTIPS.
5. Take photos of all your valuables today, and also write down serial numbers for generic objects like iPods or laptop computers. This will help police positively ID stolen items and provide verifiable information for insurance claims. Check your insurance policy to see if there are limits on what can be claimed.
After being hit by a burglar, the Weybridge homeowners made up a list of missing items and started calling pawn shops and other businesses that buy collectibles in the Burlington and Rutland areas within a few hours after the break-in. She was none too happy when one businessman requested payment to keep an eye out for the items.
To the homeowners’ amazement, one pawnbroker said he had seen a woman trying to sell a piece of precious jewelry from “grandma” the same day it had been stolen. When the customer declined to provide any information on the item’s history and left the store, the broker took the license plate number of the car in which she left and called the police. That led police to eventually track down the alleged robbers in a motel, and the case is in court now.
Jochum sees a change in his community.
“I feel the recent series of incidents have caused us to be more cautious and suspicious,” he said.
“Any community that organizes and forms a neighborhood watch group, that is a deterrent in itself. The more active role we take in protecting ourselves the better.”