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Towns report spike in thefts

Police urge steps to deter break-ins

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / November 24, 2011

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Police in several local communities are grappling with a spike in house breaks over the past few months, and are urging residents to take steps to deter would-be thieves.

Natick, Newton, Weston, and Wellesley are among several communities that have seen a significant jump in reports of residential break-ins, police said. The crimes do not appear to be related, police say, with the methods of gaining access and the types of valuables stolen varying with each incident. But detectives throughout the area are working closely to share information.

“We do have officers out there and are actively pursuing all the breaks,’’ said a Newton police spokesman, Lieutenant Bruce Apotheker. “One of the main components is we do work well with other cities and towns.’’

Newton has logged 155 house breaks this year, compared with 99 during the same period last year, he said. Just since Oct. 1, he said, there have been 35.

Law enforcement officials said they don’t know why there has been a sudden increase, but they said it’s not uncommon to have periods of ups and downs. Some officials, though, said many of the break-ins appear to be drug-related.

“These are desperate times for quite a few people,’’ said Lieutenant Brian Grassey, with the Natick force. “The common denominator seems to point to heroin addiction.’’

Grassey said prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Percocet, are the drug of choice for many addicts. But if the opiate-based medications aren’t available, they go to heroin, he said.

“Once immersed in that culture, they have to find the cash for the drugs,’’ Grassey said.

Weston went almost a year without a single break-in, but there have been four in the past month and a half, said Lieutenant Danny Maguire. He also said drugs appear to be a factor.

“In addition to items being taken such as jewelry and laptops, they take medications,’’ the Weston police officer said. He also said that some suspects have lengthy records with drug-related offenses.

Grassey said house breaks overall during the year are down in Natick, but there has been a jump in the past few months. There were nine in October, which is double that of most months.

Grassey said entry methods are different - some involve breaking windows or doors, while other incidents have burglars going through unlocked doors. He also said the types of valuables stolen vary, and include electronics and jewelry. Many of the breaks have taken place during the day at homes without alarm systems.

“If you have neighbors home during the day, make sure they are aware that a stranger is anyone you don’t know the first name of,’’ Grassey said. He said robbers are knocking on doors to see whether individuals are home. If not, they break in. If someone answers the door, they ask for directions and leave.

“These are very transient individuals, which makes it difficult for police,’’ Grassey said. “Several communities are suffering.’’

Some arrests have been made but the breaks continue, police said.

Wellesley Lieutenant Marie Cleary said there are few similarities from case to case. She said there have been 10 break-ins since July, which is higher than normal for her community.

“With these breaks, it’s not one particular part of town - there are a lot of inconsistencies,’’ she said. “There is no iron-clad M.O. for each break.’’

In one case, costume jewelry was taken but a valuable watch left behind, she said. In another case, jewelry was taken but a purse and electronics were not.

“In a lot of these, there are clearly valuables left there,’’ Cleary said. “Some of it doesn’t seem to make sense.’’

Police say residents should take a common-sense approach to protecting their home and valuables.

“It’s all about vigilance,’’ Grassey said. “If someone is in the neighborhood and doesn’t belong, give us a call.’’

Police said residents should lock all doors and windows even when they are home; install motion-activated lights outside the home; use an alarm system; work with neighbors; leave music playing while not home; and report any suspicious activity to police.

“What we see a lot of is that people don’t want to bother police and are reluctant to call when they see something suspicious,’’ Maguire said. “People like to think the best of people, but there are a lot of bad people out there.’’

When going away, homeowners should stop mail and newspaper delivery and make sure the driveway is cleared of snow so it looks like someone is home, authorities said.

Cleary suggests purchasing a safe that can be firmly mounted on a wall or floor to store jewelry or other valuables.

“It’s human nature to store them in accessible places,’’ she said. “Thieves know where people generally store their items.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

Tips from police
▸Lock all doors and windows even when home
▸Install motion-activated lights outside the home
▸Use an alarm system; work with neighbors
▸Leave music playing while not home
▸Report any suspicious activity to police
▸When going away, stop mail and newspaper delivery, and make sure driveway is cleared of snow
▸Purchase a jewelry safe that can be solidly attached


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