2018-02-15 / News

Mello: Motives in burglaries not all the same

Police say keep lights on when leaving house
BY RYAN GIBBS

Police Chief Ed Mello said a series of burglaries over the past 15 months represent a “range of concern,” emphasizing the diverse circumstances surrounding nine break-ins since November 2016.

The most concerning, he said during a public forum Friday at the senior center, are when residents return home and are confront ed by an intruder. Not all reports are this daunting, however. He said these incidents also can be estranged family members who want items they left behind.

“I don’t want people left with the perspective that they’re all on the same range,” he said.

Mello, along with officer James Chaves, hosted the forum in response to concerns stemming from a Feb. 1 newspaper article in The Jamestown Press.

“Sometimes, when we leave out the details, people fill in some of the blanks through rumor and speculation,” he said. “When you put all that together, it causes unnecessary alarm. With that being said, I don’t want to minimize the fact that we have had a number of homes broken into that we know are very concerning from a homeowner’s perspective.”

Mello said most of the reported burglaries are not random acts of theft committed by professional thieves casing neighborhoods. For example, he described an incident from July in which a couple returned home from vacation to discover their house had been burglarized. Police determined the culprits had entered through an unlocked window early in the morning. They matched a fingerprint at the scene to a 22-year-old Newport man who subsequently was arrested.

According to Mello, that man had been attending a party at his friend’s house next door. He knew the neighbors were gone, so the suspect entered the house with the initial intent to steal alcohol.

“Does that put you a little more at ease?” Mello asked “It does in my mind.”

Mello said those circumstances are far more common than a resident returning home and meeting an intruder face-to-face.

“They knew very well that house was vacant, and they probably assumed there was beer and alcohol. If it makes you feel any better, they also stole things out of their friend’s house.”

Other incidents were likely done by perpetrators who were known to their victims, Mello said. He mentioned a March 2017 break-in as an example. During that case, a home was burglarized while the owner was away for three hours, with alcohol, jewelry and marijuana stolen. Mello said the primary suspect was someone who had been a guest there but left on bad terms. The homeowners said the suspect was aware of their schedule.

Mello also detailed more harrowing incidents in which Jamestowners returned home to discover strangers on their properties. This includes a Whittier Road homeowner last month who confronted an intruder with a rifle, prompting the burglar to leap from a second-story window. Mello said his officers were on the scene almost instantly.

“Ninety seconds from the time we had the call, we had someone in that neighborhood,” he said.

Despite an immediate investigation, which included a K-9 unit and the state police, Mello said they were unable to track the culprit. He surmised the man left in a getaway car on North Road.

In order to minimize these cases, Chaves presented several tips at the forum, including standard suggestions, such as keeping lights on, checking on the stability of window locks and keeping garages and patio doors secured. He also urged homeowners to look at their own home through the eyes of a prospective thief.

“Pretend you’re trying to break into your house,” Chaves said. “Look for where you can hide, look for escape routes. You want everything well lit. That’s the number-one deterrent for criminals, they don’t want to sneak around where it’s light.”

Less conventional tips also were shared. Chaves recommended selecting random rooms to keep illuminated while gone.

Audience member Barbara Szepanowski, a former town councilwoman, suggested purchasing a “Beware of Pit Bull” sign, even if they do not have a dog. Mello mentioned two other signs to deter criminals: home security systems and NRA membership.

“House alarms can be expensive, but what’s to stop you from going on the Internet and printing out an ADT sign and sticking it on your window?” Chaves said.

Mello also said Chaves was available to assess the security of any home on the island.

“If anyone’s not comfortable looking through the eye of a criminal, the next best one is to look through a police officer’s eye,” he said.

Duval Slingluff, whose home was burglarized last summer, asked Mello whether the police could expedite their reporting of burglaries or similar incidents in town. She was concerned about not hearing about the Whittier Road case, which had occurred down the street from her, until four days after it happened. Social media websites, like Facebook, could have been used to inform the public in a quicker fashion, she said.

“Social media is so easy and so fast,” she said.

Mello said the department posted the incident on Facebook, but not until the following Monday. While he expected two neighborhood associations to spread the word, he acknowledged the department could have posted a statement earlier.

Despite her concern about the slow notification process, Slingluff said the forum was a “great starting point.” Because the incident wasn’t publicized, however, she suggested police work more closely with the local newspaper.

“The Jamestown Press needs to put a lot more in the paper,” she said. “Those two organizations need to work together.”

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