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Knowing burglary risk helps security; Break-ins can leave many broken hearts.

Byline: Susan Spencer

Property theft, though less traumatic than violent crime, can be wrenching for those whose valuables are stolen from the presumed safety of their home.

The average value of items stolen in burglaries, according to the FBI, was $2,185 in 2011, although the range is wide and what's taken - particularly jewelry or heirlooms - may have high sentimental value. Many items are swiftly pawned or melted down and are never retrieved.

Breaking-and-entering crimes have increased, local police departments report, and some towns have started to offer residents preventive programs to lessen their chance of becoming a victim.

"We're in a down economy," said Sutton Patrolman Lisa A. Bonney, who coordinates a new residential risk assessment program the department recently announced. "Also, there's a large population that has substance abuse issues."

Patrolman Bonney said she worked with Police Chief Dennis J. Towle to develop the residential risk assessment program after discussing the spate of recent break-ins. The assessment program, just launched, has not yet been conducted at a home.

Chief Towle said that Sutton, with population just under 9,000, had 57 break-ins in 2011, 44 in 2012 and 16 this year through mid-April.

Last fall, two women who gave their address as the nondenominational Church of the End Times in Uxbridge were arrested and charged in connection with at least eight to 10 burglaries in northern Rhode Island and South Central Massachusetts, much of which involved jewelry, cellphones and prescription drugs.

"We're seeing a lot of the trends increase in the area," Patrolman Bonney said. "Jewelry is the prime target. It's easy to conceal, sell and pawn."

She also said the department has had trouble with "scrappers" coming through town who take metal, especially copper, which can get a good price, and sell it to scrap yards.

Sutton's residential risk assessment program, which is offered at no charge, is intended to build on the relationship the Police Department has with residents and better educate residents about how they can protect themselves, Patrolman Bonney said.

A resident may call the department at (508) 865-4449 or email to request that an officer go to the home and conduct a security analysis, making suggestions about what could make the property less of a target for theft.

``As police, we have that job of trying to outfox the fox," Patrolman Bonney said.

She said police would look first at the home's exterior, including whether it has adequate lighting, or fencing or shrubs that might obscure the door.

"Bad guys do not like to be seen and they don't like to be heard," she said.

Items left lying around the yard, such as tools for construction projects, would also be noted.

Cars parked outside are inspected too. "Take your GPS, cellphone or wallet out, and lock your car," Patrolman Bonney said.

"There would probably be some surprise" about what police identify as risks, she said. "Unless you're in this environment and have to think differently about how things are perceived from a criminal element, they (residents) wouldn't give it a thought."

Residents will be given a checklist from the officer with suggested changes. Once the changes are made, police give the resident a "risk certified" decal to mount in a window, and a data file is set up by the Police Department with contact names and numbers.

Residents can have police store up to three items' serial numbers in the data file, which could help identify them if they are stolen.

Patrolman Bonney said the department is working with a vendor to offer small personal safes at a discount. Residents could bolt a safe to a floor or wall and store jewelry and other small valuables.

"It's not going to be an easy target," she said about a safe.

Patrolman Bonney said thieves could even be people the resident knows or hires to do work.

"It's not just people driving by. It could be someone you've trusted to come into your home," she said.

Auburn Police Chief Andrew J. Sluckis Jr. said his department for the past two years has responded to requests from residents or local businesses to do an inspection. Officer Brian Procaro, a certified crime prevention specialist, offers suggestions on how to improve security.

"The latest trend has been kicking in rear doors to gain entry," Chief Sluckis said, "or sometime smashing the front door if made of glass."

He said burglars are stealing "anything and everything," including copper piping, computers and jewelry. From convenience stores, they might take scratch tickets and cigarettes.

"It's picked up within the last year," he said. "It's a combination of the value of copper in conjunction with the state of the economy. Houses for sale, that are vacant, have been stripped of copper."

Chief Sluckis said Auburn residents can call the main Police Department number, (508) 832-7777, and ask for Officer Procaro to come out for a survey.

Northbridge has also seen an increase in break-ins over the past two or three years, according to Police Chief Walter J. Warchol.

"There's a rash of people breaking into unlocked storage sheds. People might have a couple of thousand dollars worth of equipment in their storage shed," Chief Warchol said.

He attributed the uptick in burglaries to the economy and in particular to people who are dependent on drugs.

Chief Warchol said that if residents or businesses call the Police Department, they will send a lieutenant to walk through the property and offer suggestions to make it a little more difficult to be targeted for a crime.

He also said people should avoid leaving valuables and cash in their car.

Northbridge Police Department can be reached at (508) 234-6211.

Westboro Police Chief Alan Gordon said in an email that Detective Sgt. Glen McLeod does home assessments on request for residents and speaks to groups in town, particularly the elderly at the Senior Center, about how to prevent thefts.

The Westboro Police Department's number is (508) 366-3060.

Besides protecting from loss by theft, could police departments' residential assessments save money on homeowners' insurance premiums?

Amy L. Banek, director of media relations for the Hanover Insurance Group in Worcester said, "We do offer discounts for homeowners that have an alarm system," but she had not heard yet of discounts for meeting local police "risk certification" criteria.

"We're hoping that with the break-ins in the area, people will take advantage of this (residential risk assessment)," Patrolman Bonney of Sutton said.

"It's a great way to think about protecting your property."

Contact Susan Spencer at Follow her on Twitter @SusanSpencerTG.

The reality: The average value of items stolen in burglaries, according to the FBI, was $2,185 in 2011, although the range is wide and what's taken - particularly jewelry or heirlooms - may have high sentimental value.

The numbers: With a population just under 9,000, Sutton had 57 break-ins in 2011, 44 in 2012, and 16 this year through mid-April.


CUTLINE: Sutton Patrolman Lisa A. Bonney holds papers with a long list of stolen jewelry from residences in town.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 22, 2013
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