By Eric Francis
“In sleepy little Woodstock, we’ve been fortunate to have a very low crime rate, and I think our crime rate is still low, but of late we have concerns and we want to educate the public about the problem that exists,” Woodstock Police Chief Byron Kelly explained this week as his department reached out to townspeople for help with a sudden rash of break-ins.
“We live in a community that in an average year would maybe have six burglaries or so, which is still too many, but since the first of September we’ve had six and prior to that we only had three for the first eight months of this year,” Kelly said.
So far there isn’t any clear pattern to the break-ins, which this year have hit residences on Church Street, South Street, Garvin Hill Road, Cox District Road, Benedict Road, Gabert Road, Fletcher Hill, and College Hill.
“Most of the ones since September appear to be daytime burglaries,” Chief Kelly noted, “In all but one case they are occurring during daytime hours in unoccupied residences – some are full-time residences, some are occasional residences – so there’s really no division there.”
“In almost all cases they are occurring between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. – and many of them we can actually probably narrow it down a little more to closer between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. – but a couple are a little outside of that,” Kelly said.
“There are some commonalities that make us believe that a large percentage of (the burglaries) are being done by one perpetrator or group of perpetrators. It may be a couple people working together or more,” Kelly said; however, he quickly added, “It would be inappropriate for law enforcement to put all their eggs in one basket and, based on our investigation, there are certain things that would lead us to believe that not all of them were done by one group or one perpetrator.”
Woodstock isn’t the only town being hit. Since September 1, the Vermont State Police have also dealt with another five burglaries that were reported in the neighboring towns of Bridgewater, Hartland, Plymouth and Reading.
“It’s all over the place. We have TVs being takenâ€¦cash, jewelry, medication, digital cameras. It’s usually a quick-in and a quick-out,” Chief Kelly said, noting, “We did have guns taken in our last one which is a concern. I can tell you that historically in burglaries weapons are often sought.”
According to Kelly, the break-ins themselves are “not necessarily that sophisticated” although he did not want to give out the specific methods of entry that have been used in the recent Woodstock cases.
Vermont State Police Sgt. Craig Gardner did detail some of the methodology that troopers have been seeing used in the burglaries in surrounding towns. Gardner said that in Bridgewater a screwdriver was used to jimmy open the door of a seasonal camp. In Hartland a backdoor was kicked in and that was also the way one of the Reading burglaries occurred, with alcohol and food being stolen in that instance. The Plymouth burglary was an incursion on state land into a garage that belongs to the Department of Forests and Parks and, in that case, a window was broken out in order to gain entry some time between 2 p.m. on October 4 and 7:30 a.m. the next morning, which is when the crime was discovered.
In Woodstock, police know of at least two burglaries that were foiled because alarms sounded. “We can pinpoint the time in those cases – between 11 p.m. at night and 12:30 a.m. in the morning. The perpetrators didn’t get property at either one of those residences,” Chief Kelly said.
“We know the times because of alarms but the ironic thing is that in both of those instances the alarm company and/or the property manager or the property owner elected not to have the police called when the alarm sounded,” Kelly said, “I don’t if that’s due to the economy or just because of so many false alarms that they may be saying, â€˜Ah, this is just false, don’t call the police’.”
It was much later in each instance when checks of the property revealed that burglars had been trying to get inside and had apparently been scared off.
So, even though burglaries are increasing this year, the number of people reporting that burglar alarms are sounding is sharply falling. “In 2009, we had a total of 124 alarms we responded to in the village and town of Woodstock,” Chief Kelly explained. “In 2010, we’ve only had 88 alarms. Are the alarms down because the actual alarms are down or because people are getting them serviced better or are some people not calling them in? I don’t know, but we know that our actual burglar alarms are down 33 percent roughly in 2010.”
The Woodstock Police do charge for false alarms (with the exception of allowing each residence one “free” false alarm per calendar year) but Kelly said if property owners are now stifling them in order to save a few dollars they are being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
“Alarms systems are helpful, especially if they are reported when they sound,” Kelly said, adding that there is another, newer technology that homeowners should also consider.
“More and more people are installing those wildlife cameras up near their driveways and when something or someone passes the beam it takes a photo,” the Chief said. “People who enjoy wildlife might get a photo of that bear that’s coming up to your feeder every night or you may get a photograph of a vehicle that arrived at your house that you didn’t know about.”
Still, for all the fun of vigilant gadgets, Kelly said, there is no substitute for the time-tested New England tradition of a nosy neighbor. “What we really want to get out there from the education standpoint is that, while police patrols are helpful and investigation is helpful, we find that when neighbors watch over neighbors it works the best,” he said.
“There are limited police patrols but, even if there were a lot of police patrols, it doesn’t stop burglaries,” the chief said. “The way to do that is mainly through neighborhood watches and just neighbors watching neighbors. They know what is usual and they need to call us if they see something unusual.”
Kelly urged residents to take a second look at anything that seems out of place, saying that if residents find themselves thinking, “That’s strange, I’ve lived on this road for 20 years and I’ve never seen a car there at this time of the morning,” they need to make the extra effort to write down a plate number or a description for suspicious vehicles “because it might be important later.”
“Because of budgetary constraints we don’t have a lot of patrols in the town of Woodstock and we actually cut the patrol by eight hours a week this year,” Chief Kelly noted, quickly adding, “I’m not saying this to say that we need to increase it – because that’s the last thing I’m trying to say – I’m trying to say we need public involvement because any help we can get is good help.”
“When we investigate these kinds of things it’s not uncommon for us to hear, â€˜Well, I heard something at two in the morning but I didn’t want to bother you’,” Kelly said with exasperation. “Well that’s exactly what the police agency is there for – to respond to your concerns at two in the morning if that’s when it is.”
While random police patrol time in the town has been scaled back, officers will still come out and make checks of specific properties when homeowners are away and request the service. “If you leave town for an extended period of time, call Woodstock Emergency Communications and we will arrange for periodic house checks,” Kelly urged, “We’ve found that seems to be helpful and it gets the officers out on roads they might not otherwise be on.”
“We are not trying to alarm or scare people,” Kelly insisted, “We want to educate them that this is a problem and a concern. It’s extremely important for people who have alarms to use that and to lock their houses and to lock their cars whenever possible. If we all work together we can put an end to this – at least to this latest rash.”
At the Royalton State Police Barracks, Sgt. Gardner echoed Kelly’s admonitions, but he also added that Woodstock is still somewhat atypical when it comes to property crimes. “It’s hard to say why this is happening. It could certainly be the economy or it could be people’s drug issues that send them looking for money but it’s constantly happening. It’s not like this is a big huge spike for us,” at the regional level, Gardner said, explaining, “For us five burglaries (bordering Woodstock) doesn’t seem that excessive. Our barracks has 22 burglaries of some type since Sept 1, most of those were up in the Randolph, Braintree, Brookfield areas.”
“People definitely need to take precautions and lock their doors,” the sergeant added. “The days of leaving your keys in your car in the driveway and leaving your house unlocked are gone. Everybody should be constantly locking everything and doing what they can to secure everything.”
By Eric Francis