By SAMANTHA MCDONNELL
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Within recent weeks, both the Fredonia and Dunkirk Police departments have made arrests for burglaries and the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office has issued a warning about recent break-ins. While there seems to be a trend currently, it is unable to predict when a burglar will strike.
Merritt Wolcott has been charged in city, Fredonia.
"The trends even in the past few years, for burglaries, house entries and vehicle entries have seen to increase immensely," David Ortolano, Dunkirk Police chief, said.
According to Fredonia Police Chief Bradley Meyers, the amount of burglaries in recent years have also increased in the village. In 2010, the department responded to 27 incidents, which decreased in 2011 to 25 incidents. In 2012, however, that number jumped to 39 incidents. Senior Investigator with the New York State Police Greg Holt said the State Police has also been investigating several burglaries in recent weeks.
Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace said the Sheriff's Office has been investigating burglaries in the northern part of the county in Sheridan, Pomfret and Portland. Burglary is one of the biggest crimes in the county, he said.
"It's a crime that really upsets me. They're entering into people's kingdoms, their homes. It really changes their lives, their sense of well being and security," Gerace said.
Gerace said many burglaries are "a crime of opportunity." Many burglars will stake out residences and ensure no one is home. Some may even be familiar with the neighborhood.
"It's a crime of opportunity for these burglars," Gerace said. "They will knock on the door or call on the phone. We even had one (burglar) that would throw rocks through the windows to see if he would get a response or an alarm."
Since most residents work, burglars take advantage of work schedules. Holt said many burglars take advantage of empty houses to avoid conflict.
"Obviously people know a lot of people aren't home during the day and are at work," Holt said. "(Burglars) rather go in an unoccupied house, commit the crime and leave. They're usually in and out in a fairly quick amount of time."
Many burglary suspects may be trying to support a habit or looking to pick up some extra cash through a pawn shop.
"A lot of this activity is related to drugs. They're stealing merchandise to support drug habits," Gerace said.
While there is no particular times of year that burglaries are most common, state police and the sheriff's office often responds to hunting cabins and campsite burglaries more during the spring. Hunting cabins are often secure but since they are more secluded, they tend to be easier targets.
"If you're in the country and you're on a street with hills and twist and turns in the roads, you can't see your neighbors or your neighbors are a distance away, that plays a role in it," Holt said.
The recent burglaries have been widespread throughout the city of Dunkirk. Ortolano said some burglaries have occurred in the First Ward but others were spread out. The recent string of burglaries around the area have happened all hours of the day. Ortolano said normally residents associate nighttime with the crime.
"When you think of burglars, you think of after dark someone sneaking around breaking into a house. The trend within the last year or so we've seen more of the daytime entries," he said.
Anytime the Dunkirk Police go to a burglary, they take fingerprints, photographs and DNA from the scene hoping to get a match. Sometimes when the crimes are widespread it is harder for police to "pin down" who the suspect may be, Ortolano said.
"It has to take a combination of police work and residents getting involved and helping us out. If (burglaries) are happening sporadically and randomly, it's very hard for us to pin them down," he said.
Ortolano also said his department works closely with Fredonia Police. Recently, both Fredonia and Dunkirk Police worked collaboratively to arrest a burglary suspect in mid-February who had committed burglary crimes in the Fredonia-Dunkirk area.
PROTECT YOUR HOME
While the crime may not be easy to predict, there are ways to protect your home and belongings. Both Ortolano, Gerace and Holt strongly urge residents to lock their doors and windows. Gerace said, according to national statistics burglars will give up if it takes longer than three minutes to gain entry. The Sheriff's Office does promotes security systems.
"We do promote people to have alarm systems in their home. They are very helpful. That can be eyes and ears when we're not able to patrol that area," Gerace said.
Holt suggests lighting, both exterior and interior. Motion lights on a timer from dusk to dawn, is a crime deterrent.
"One thing I always tell people is to have some sort of security light on the interior and exterior that comes on at night. An area that is well lit tends to be an area that people who are to commit a crime do not want to be in," Holt said.
Ortolano said cash, jewelry and small electronics are easy to grab and can easily be concealed under clothing. Keeping these items secure can deter criminals since burglary is a "crime of opportunity," Ortolano said. Most of the campsite burglaries scene involve secured buildings. When a burglar wants to get in locks can be jimmied or windows broken, Holt said. He suggests not leaving anything of value in cabins if unoccupied for a period of time.
"Don't leave your weapons or anything of value, like TVs, that could be easily removed. If they're going to be left unoccupied for a period of time, you're just protecting your investments," Holt said.
REPORT SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY
If residents see anything out of the ordinary or suspicious, they are urged to call police right away.
"Pay attention to who doesn't belong or if they see somebody hanging out or something suspicious even during the daytime," Ortolano said. "(Callers) can remain anonymous .. but sometimes we need people to step up and give a statement. It has to take a combination of police work and residents getting involved."
If residents see a suspicious vehicle, describe the car and the direction or travel to police; same for persons. Holt said along with vehicle descriptions, plate numbers are crucial.
"The more information that people can give to us, the better we're able to do our job. We really rely on concerned citizens giving us a call and giving us the best description and information," Holt said.
Gerace said many times these tips lead to closing active cases as well as preventing new crimes. Residents often know their own neighborhoods the best, he added.
All four police agencies conduct property checks if a resident is going away for a long weekend or vacation. Dunkirk residents can find the house watch form on www.dunkirkpolice.com under 'Forms.' They can be dropped off at the police station or residents can come in and speak with an officer.
"I'd like to see more people take advantage of the program," Ortolano said.
The Fredonia Police Department, State Police and Sheriff's Office all require residents to call the department and will take the information by phone. The State Police also offers a program for residents who will be gone for an extended period of time. The Post It Property program allows police to warn others the property is being watched.
"We'll actually put up signs (on the property) that it is being watched by the State Police," Holt said.
To contact the police departments, call 679-1531 for the Fredonia Police Department; call 366-2266 for the Dunkirk Police Department; call 679-1521 for the State Police; and call 753-4231 for the Sheriff's Office.
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