Burglaries have North St. Paul residents on the defensive

After a dozen home burglaries, many of a chilling kind, the North St. Paul Police Department called a community meeting to advise residents on how to protect themselves.

Leading up to Oct. 16, the north side of the city, from Highway 36 up to the border in an area roughly bounded by McKnight Road and Helen Street, had seen six burglaries, most of which featured slit window or door screens as entry points.

The south side’s first two blocks along Highway 120, from Fourth down to Shryer avenues, had four, with another at a home near Goodrich Golf Course to the city’s far southwest. Those were mainly accomplished with a pry bar.

Police told the 80-90 people gathered at the evening meeting that they had few leads to go on, But those they had were disturbing.

Prowling occupied homes

On the south side of the city, most the burglaries were “cold burglaries,” meaning there was no one home at the time.

That’s the usual pattern for most “opportunistic” burglars. They knock on doors to find out if a home is unoccupied or watch residents’ patterns. They’re generally fearful enough of discovery that they grab a few items and leave.

But, on the north side, burglars are entering homes where people are in other rooms or asleep, and taking their time to search out jewelry, money, liquor and other valuables.

This group is confident enough to go room-to-room and explore various floors.

“It’s very bold behavior to just go into an occupied house,” Police Capt. Dustin NIkituk said. “There have been a couple in which people walked around the main level and then went downstairs to look around—while a resident was in a bedroom on that lower level.”

Police suspect the burglars are in a group and are moving around on foot, although there have been some sightings of a white sedan that seems to be trolling alleys in the city.

Police response

From added patrols and calling in K-9 teams from neighboring police departments to using night-vision goggles and FLIR temperature-sensing cameras, the North St. Paul department is throwing everything it has at the problem.

First and foremost, Nikituk said, people need to lock their windows and doors. As the weather turns chillier, he says, the rate of burglaries may go down simply because there are no more easy entries to be had.

“People ask ‘Why do we have to lock our doors?’” he says. “I tell them, ‘Because times are changing.’”

Nikituk’s top recommendations:

Lighting

Lights that illuminate the approaches to a home and lights controlled by motion sensors can deter many opportunistic burglars, Nikituk told the crowd.

Particularly worrisome are the dark alleys in older parts of town, where people can approach garages and homes unseen.

Basically, thanks to their stepped-up presence on foot in city neighborhoods, Nikituk can say “only a handful” of properties have motion-sensor lights.

Also important: interior lights and devices such as TVs on timers to keep the place looking occupied.

Security systems

Nikituk also recommended installing an alarm system, which may prove to be a more effective deterrent than people realize. Studies have shown, he says, that just seeing an alarm company’s sign in a yard will deter would-be thieves.

Police Sgt. Mike Lang concurred, saying “In my 21 years I’ve never had a burglary report at a home where there’s an alarm system.”

Keep it private

In the digital era, information you put out on blogs or on Facebook can get to people you weren’t aiming at. From there, it’s just a couple of keystrokes and maybe a drive-by to find out that yes, you are relaxing at the cabin and not at home on Cottage Drive.

“Don’t put that you’re going to be on vacation on Facebook and Twitter,” Nikituk warned.

The people you should tell you’ll be gone: trusted neighbors and North St. Paul police, who can perform extra house checks.

Mail should be stopped and neighbors can make sure flyers and newspapers don’t pile up.

Don’t ‘help’

Especially with the number of split-levels in town, don’t leave ladders outside, where somebody else can find them. “That offers access to the second level, where they may assume windows are unlocked.”

Garage doors should be kept shut and locked, not just to screen equipment from view but to keep an added barrier between burglars and home service doors. The same goes for cars, house doors and windows.

And keep valuables off kitchen tables, counters and out of view of windows and doorways.

The chances of reuniting people with their goods are especially slim if they’re not marked, Nikituk adds. An inexpensive engraver can put your initials on tools, stereo components, laptops and other items.

And while you’re at it, digital photos of valuable items—and of any serial numbers on them—helps both in recovery and insurance reports. 

Get together

Contact North St. Paul police at 651-747-2406 to find out if there’s an active block club in your area—or if someone should start one. Nikituk noted the Southwest Silver Lake watch group and the Tower Park group as especially active in helping neighbors stay aware of their surroundings.

People can also sign up for city alerts by phone by calling that number. They’ll receive urgent notices such as crime alerts and power outage information.

As for suspicious activity, day or evening prowlers, cars that seem to be “trolling” the area, police ask residents to call.

“If you see something that looks wrong, call 911,” Nikituk says. “Don’t spend time looking around for a non-emergency number.”

And, he says,  “Sometimes the biggest tip can come from the smallest incidents.”

Holly Wenzel can be reached at review@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7817.


Get a free security audit from police

Discount offered on security items at local store

To help North St. Paul residents lock up and look out for crime, the police department is offering free home-security audits.

People who call 651-747-2406 can arrange for a home security audit, where they’ll get:

• a visit from an officer to walk around and through the home, pointing out areas that need security improvement

• crime-prevention information including a “Top Ten” handout

• proof of the audit to take to Henricksen Ace Hardware in North St. Paul for a 10 percent discount on specific security and lighting products.

Jason Kuchenmeister, manager at the store, says staff can point people to a variety of security lights, motion sensor, timers and window locks that have been slated for the discount. The store is located at 2220 East Highway 36 and is accessible via McKnight Road.

 

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A thin safety line
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