Residents in the towns of Glen and Florida and village of Fultonville met Wednesday night to share information with local law enforcement on what they see as a rash of burglaries in eastern Montgomery County.
“How many people here have been robbed?” one woman asked at the meeting, which was attended by Sgt. Thomas Flickinger of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
At least five hands shot up in the air among the 50 or so residents who attended the meeting.
Statistics on burglaries in the county are murky. County sheriff’s Investigator Joseph Kilmartin said last week that burglaries are actually down countywide this year, with none occurring in Glen, but one Glen resident said Wednesday night that his house was broken into in July.
Kilmartin said last week that from Jan. 1 to Sept. 5 of 2016, there were 27 burglaries reported countywide. This year through Sept. 5, he said, there were about a dozen that occurred countywide: none in Glen, four in the town of Amsterdam, two in the town of Minden, and one each in the towns of Florida, Palatine, Root and Mohawk. The remaining two occurred in the villages of Fultonville and Hagaman, Kilmartin said. Three of the burglary cases this year were solved by arrest, he said.
He added that sometimes burglaries get falsely reported as larcenies, and vice versa, and that the geographic vagaries of Montgomery County’s various towns and villages may affect data. From the department’s point of view, however, Kilmartin said there’s been no discernible rise in burglary cases.
A state police spokesman reported similar findings on burglary cases they’ve investigated in Montgomery County between June and August.
“There’s been a grand total of three to four burglary cases in Montgomery County this summer that we’ve investigated,” Trooper Mark Cepiel said. “I don’t know what the average is for that particular area, but in general one to two a month is common in those types of rural areas.”
Regardless of the statistics, it was clear at Wednesday night’s meeting, which was held at the Town of Glen Volunteer Fire Department, that residents feel burglaries are on the rise and that their sleepy towns and villages are no longer as safe as they once might have been.
Jason Mormile, a Glen resident and captain with the Glen Volunteer Fire Department whose home was broken into in July, said he remembers a time when you could walk right into a neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of sugar.
“That’s the kind of town I wanted to live in,” said Mormile, adding that he moved to the town 16 years ago for its remote location and rural character. “It’s not the same old town of Glen for me, sadly. That ended when I got broken into.”
Other residents shared their stories of break-ins. One couple was asleep when a burglar wriggled in through a downstairs window last year. Last February, in a highly publicized case, Denise and Patrick Krohn’s home in the town of Florida was broken into and their two dogs, Kirby and Quigley, were shot and killed.
In Mormile’s case from July, an alarm system he installed to regulate the temperature in his home wound up scaring off the would-be burglars before they could get away with any loot.
Glen fire chief Jd Downing, who helped organized Wednesday’s meeting, said his mother and brother were burglarized in separate incidents last year, and told residents that vigilance and communication with each other is key to the community’s safety and security.
“Society has changed drastically in the last 10 years. Everybody knows their neighbor but nobody knows what the neighbor is doing,” Downing said. “I guess that’s good in some respects, but if there’s a car sitting out in front of my house at 1 p.m., I’d like the neighbor to tell me about it or call somebody.”
There’s also a widespread belief among residents that the sheriff’s office needs to be more communicative about such cases when information comes in.
Downing’s mother, Sandra Knapik, was burglarized in November 2015 and said she was disappointed with how her case has been handled by the sheriff’s office. She said she was lectured about home security by a deputy and there were no follow-up calls from the department on the status of her case.
“It was very laid back, which annoyed me,” Knapik said of her view of the investigation. “And we’ve never gotten a phone call from the sheriff’s office, never. Nobody calls you back. You’re agitated, you’re aggravated.”
Knapik said she wished the investigator would check in with her about her case, which remains unsolved, even if there’s not much to report.
“Why doesn’t somebody call us and say, ‘Look, it’s been a couple weeks, I just want to update you,’” Knapik said. “Even if you have nothing to say, you make the people in the community feel a little better that maybe you’re working on it.”
Denise Krohn attended the meeting and said her experience was much the same.
“If I didn’t call the sheriff’s office, we had no idea where we were at in the case,” said Krohn, whose case is also unsolved.
Others at the meeting, including Mormile, said they had positive experiences with the sheriff’s office’s handling of their cases. Mormile said he understands, however, that there have been differing experiences with the department.
“I think the general consensus so far is that there is a breakdown of communication between the sheriff’s office and the community,” he said. “And as a community, maybe that’s one thing we can do, start voicing that to the sheriff’s department.”
Flickinger, the sheriff’s sergeant, said he’ll be taking the community’s concerns back to his superiors, but that there is a limit to the information that law enforcement can share publicly.
“We don’t want [suspects] to read what you can read and they know that we’re looking at them,” he said. “If they know that we’re looking at them, we’re going to lose the case.”
Residents said there has to be a way, perhaps a Facebook page, for the sheriff’s office to share when a burglary occurs and the general area it occurred in.
“I don’t think people are saying we need names and addresses and telephone numbers,” Mormile said. “Just maybe more so, ‘Listen, last month there were three break-ins.’”
Kilmartin said Thursday that the department has a Facebook page but that it’s inactive. He referred comment to Sheriff Michael Amato, who did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.
Flickinger said burglaries usually happen during the day, and are often fueled by the opioid and heroin crisis that’s sweeping the region and country.
“There is an epidemic with heroin and opiates, and obviously it’s more towards the city, but they’ve learned to come outside the city to commit the crimes and get the merchandise they want,” Flickinger said.
Commonly stolen items include money, jewelry, electronics, tools and “anything that they can pawn, stuff that anyone will buy,” Flickinger said. He added that some pawn shops do not record identifying information when receiving things like jewelry, as they’re required to do.
He also said a typical ploy is for a burglar to knock on the door of a home, ostensibly seeking directions, to see if anyone is inside.
“These days with cellphones and GPS, there’s no reason to ask for directions,” he said.
Flickinger said the sheriff’s office has a service where county residents can request deputies check on their property once per 12-hour shift. Forms to participate in the program are located at the sheriff’s office, he said. Flickinger further advised people to keep their travel plans off social media.
He also encouraged residents to keep a record of the serial numbers, make and model of any firearms they own that are in their homes.
Flickinger added that home surveillance systems have come down in price and do not require an internet connection to operate. Others suggested placing inexpensive trail cameras that detect motion along driveways and other access points to record comings and goings. Another person at the meeting said residents should join nextdoor.com, a website that connects people with neighbors and is used as a sort of internet neighborhood watch.
Flickinger said the biggest piece of advice he can give is for people to notice their surroundings, identify unfamiliar vehicles and individuals, and to not be afraid to call neighbors or the sheriff’s office.
“My biggest recommendation to anyone is that if you see something, call us,” he said.