Burglary rates appear to drop after a surge in 2010

After a small surge in commercial burglaries on Vashon last year, Sgt. JR Hall, Vashon’s administrative sergeant, says the rash of break-ins seems to be decreasing now, likely due to increased police patrolling and community response.

According to King County crime statistics, Vashon businesses reported between 15 and 19 burglaries or attempted burglaries each year between 2006 and 2009. Last year, however, there were 30 reports.

Though Hall noted that some reports may be follow-ups to break-ins that were already recorded, many Vashon business owners have also noticed a change.

Alice Larson, owner of Island Paper Chase, grew concerned late last year when several businesses at Vashon Village, including her own, had computers and other property stolen during the night. In addition, Larson said, some business owners began arriving in the morning to find their offices unlocked when they had been locked the night before, though nothing seemed to be stolen.

Larson took the information to Hall, who at that time was fresh on the job.

“The moment I got that information, I quickly went to work and said we’re going to solve this,” he said.

Hall, who had heard of other late-night or early-morning break-ins at businesses and churches in  town, asked Vashon sheriff’s deputies to begin performing extra patrols in town at night and to add foot patrols to their rounds. Now, he said, deputies get out of their cars, walk outside businesses and rattle doorknobs.

In early February, Hall said, one deputy on foot patrol at Vashon Presbyterian Church arrested a man suspected of stealing a key to the church and repeatedly breaking in at night.

“They stumbled on a burglary in process,” Hall said. “He was one of the people named as a (suspect) in the series of (residential) burglaries that took place in September and November.”

Hall believes the in-creased police presence, which began around the beginning of the year, has caused burglaries to drop at Vashon Village and other town locations. In the first three months of 2011, he said, there were seven burglaries reported at Vashon businesses — fewer, he said, than in late 2010. He said the recent numbers are low, even for a small town.

Businesses owners have also taken measures to protect themselves from crime. 

Gib Dammann, head of buildings and grounds at The Church of the Holy Spirit, said that since seeing an increase in break-ins in the last year or so, the church no longer leaves its doors unlocked at night, something he said many churches used to do to allow people to worship at all hours. 

“We were the last ones on the Island to keep the sanctuary open 24/7,” he said. 

But even with doors locked, Dammann said the church has found windows broken, doorknobs tampered with, computers gone and petty cash-boxes stolen. 

“It’s calmed down the last six weeks, but previous to that it seemed like someone was making an attempt at least once a month. … We just keep adding locks and trying to make things more and more secure, and we let the police know about it,” he said.

About nine months ago the church installed several surveillance cameras around the premises after a generator was stolen from a shed on church grounds. Dammann estimates it took at least four people to lift the generator, which cost $4,000.

“Whoever did that was very organized and professional,” he said. 

Dammann was pleased to learn of the increased patrols in town and believes they may have helped curb the number of break-ins at the church. 

He believes those involved in the burglaries are likely drug addicts, the type of people the church tries to reach out to in its weekly free dinners. 

“In some respects it’s like you’re biting the hand that feeds you,” he said.

Clay Glebb, a manager at Vashon Thriftway, said that his store, too, installed surveillance cameras last fall after seeing about a 10 percent increase in shoplifting in the last year. He suspects the increase is related to the difficult economy.

“It definitely is a big concern for us,” Glebb said. “We are always trying to look for ways to decrease our losses as much as we can, but it’s very hard to keep up with the amount of shoplifting we have going on.”

Glebb said other stores in the shopping center, which his family owns, have seen more theft. The store owners now share the names of known shoplifters, who are in turn banned from the entire center, he said.

Though burglaries in town appear to be down, some business are still getting hit. True Value had canisters of propane stolen from the locked area at its service center at least twice in the last month and a half, and kerosene was recently stolen from the main store. 

“I was surprised they would be so bold as to do something like cut a lock,” said Doug Snyder, the store’s owner.

Snyder thinks he knows who some of the thieves are and, like Dammann, believes they steal to fuel their drug addictions. He reported the incidents, bought a bigger padlock for the service center and hopes he’s seen the last of the break-ins at his store.

If it happens again, he said, “We may have to go to outdoor cameras.”

Meanwhile, Hall is working with Deborah Richards, director of the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce, to increase communication with Island businesses with an e-mail newsletter.

“It would be really good for the businesses to hear firsthand what is going on and what (the sheriff’s office) is doing,” Richards said.

Tentatively called Vashon Crime News, the newsletter will give business owners details about recent crimes and what they should look out for. Hall, who is able to visit the Island only about once a month, also hopes the newsletter will further open lines of communication between him and business owners by encouraging them to report any burglaries or suspicious activity. 

“I would love to see a month or two or three where commercial burglaries drop to zero,” he said.


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