By Polly Keary, Editor
When Jennifer Bruley and her family returned to their Hill Street area home from a camping trip Aug. 15, they got an ugly surprise.
The house had been robbed. But the violation didn’t end there. Their personal items had been vandalized and the house trashed with senseless malice. And after the robbery, Bruley learned that it had happened to some of her neighbors, as well.
Three months later, Bruley has learned how difficult it is to catch a thief, and she is afraid that her neighborhood might be targeted again.
Bruley had already noticed some trouble in her area before the burglary. Hill Street was closed for a while in the late spring and early summer as the street was repaired. But when it reopened, within a week her mailbox had been robbed. She got a locking box, but other boxes on the street were broken in to several more times.
But she never could have foreseen what happened to her home in mid-August. “We went camping for four days, came home and found back door kicked in and the mess was incredible,” she said.
Jewelry was gone, including heirloom pieces. Two coin collections had been stolen. Bruley’s daughter’s bass guitar was gone, too. In all, about $14,000 in goods were gone.
What was worse was the vandalism. A stool had been left on a bed. Belongings had been smashed or scattered about.
The greatest blow, however, came when Bruley realized that the container holding the ashes of the infant daughter she’d lost years ago had been dumped out on the floor.
“They spread my daughter’s ashes all over,” she said. “I had been walking in them. I tried to get a dustpan and sweep them up.”
She called police, who told her not to investigate, so that they could come and get what fingerprints might be available.
As they waited for the police to arrive, they spoke to neighbors, and learned that they weren’t alone. Another neighbor had been burglarized, and her dog maced.
“That kind of started the chain,” she said. “Other neighbors came forward and said, ‘My house was broken into on such-and-such a date.”
When police got there, they dusted for fingerprints and took statements and photographs, but after that, nothing much happened.
In the meantime, Bruley found a website called crimemapping.com. According to that website, since June 18, there have been seven burglaries within a five block radius of her home, and five reported car prowls, the densest grouping of burglaries in the city.
Officer Ryan Irving of the Monroe Police said he understands the frustration of burglary victims. Unfortunately, he said, there are some challenges involved in solving those crimes.
It can be difficult retrieving fingerprints of sufficient quality to trace, he noted.
And often, victims have only descriptions of their stolen property, as opposed to photographs and serial numbers.
“If there is a serial number, pawn shops have to take the ID of the person who pawned something and the serial number and it will pop up; it will give us the lead to go say, ‘who pawned this?’” he said.
The situation is even worse with jewelry. Anyone buying gold is supposed to take ID and write a description of the item sold, but then the item can be immediately melted down. That makes it hard to identify a stolen piece and impossible to retrieve it.
Nationwide, the clearance rate, or the rate of solved crimes, for burglaries is a dismal 13 percent.
But when police do get a break, it’s often because of vigilant neighbors.
For example, a man on Chain Lake Road recently spotted a woman with a small dog in the driveway of a neighbor’s home.
She was well dressed and said she was at the house looking for someone, and the man was convinced. But later, when it was discovered that the home had been burglarized, the man was able to give police a good description of her car. Police the next day spotted a car of that description outside a storage unit in Monroe. When they did a search of the property where she had been staying, they found hundreds of items from as many as 20 burglaries, they say.
“A lot of people want to stay quiet and don’t feel comfortable meeting the neighbors, but if you do, you can identify those suspects,” said Irving.
Watchful neighbors can notice when something is out of place and alert authorities.
“If something doesn’t look right, call 911; don’t be afraid to let us know,” said Irving. “People don’t want to bother 911, but you never know. You could be looking at a professional burglar.”
With the holiday season increasing the amount of packages being delivered to people’s houses, now is a better time than ever to keep an eye out for your neighbors.
“There’s going to be temptation for these types of crimes to increase,” said Irving.
As for Bruley, even getting to know her neighbors hasn’t eased her mind.
“I am always on edge,” she said.