Burglaries, thefts, robberies and techniques for protecting property

A series of burglaries in Pateros and Brewster, all the way up to an armed robbery in Bridgeport - it's been a busy season for thieves in the Quad City area. But there are things people can do to protect their property.

Thieves apparently were interrupted in the act of robbing a home on First Street in Brewster on Saturday, Dec. 20; nothing was stolen, said Brewster Police Chief Ron Oules. Thieves also hit an unoccupied house on Cliff Avenue in Brewster around the same time. Burglars broke into a house on Third Street in Brewster sometime in early December and stole a substantial amount of cash and computer equipment. All three cases are still under investigation.

Anthony Allen Hughes, 21, Methow, was arrested and charged in connection with break-ins at Lake Pateros Rentals and Lakeshore Automotive, which occurred in early December. Allegedly Hughes attempted to flee from police and drove through the fence at the Brewster High School soccer field in his attempt to escape. Deputies are still looking for the burglars who broke into Yancey's Ace Hardware and the Lake Pateros Sports Bar and Grill on Nov. 9.

The owner of the Yaretzi Dollar Store in Bridgeport was the victim of an armed robbery Tuesday, Dec. 23 (See separate story.) And that's not to mention car prowls, stuff stolen from carports, little crimes (although not so little to the victims) that seem to happen every couple of weeks. November and December seem to be busy months for burglars around here.

"Burglaries usually go up this time of year," said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers. "We always say it's the Christmas season, everybody's shopping."

Okay-there are bad guys out there, what can residents do to make their homes less inviting to crooks?

Rogers recalled a case he had a long time ago, a series of burglaries; the thieves did most of their thieving between 4 and 6 p.m. "They were actually smart," he said; that's when people come home from work and school, so the bad guys drove around looking for houses that were dark. That was the sign nobody was home. "Lights are great," Rogers said. "We go back to the lighting," Oules said; lighting, inside and outside, is a deterrent to bad guys.

Oules said he believes the recent burglaries in Brewster are being committed by people who live in the area, Okanogan County or Douglas County, and not transients passing through. Local guys may take the time to check out a house before breaking in, if residents are going to be gone for a while, even a couple of days, "ask your neighbor to keep an eye on your house," Oules said.

"Make your house look lived-in," Rogers said-ask family, neighbors or friends to pick up mail or newspapers, make arrangements to get the driveway cleaned after a snowstorm. The best way, Oules said, if a person is going to be out of town for an extended length of time, is to get somebody to stay in the house.

Lights also help deter bad guys who might be looking to filch stuff from behind a house, off a carport or out of a car, "crimes of opportunity, y'know?" said Douglas County Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal. The best way to keep prowlers away from cars and property is to remove the targets of opportunity, Gjesdal said. "Lock your car and don't leave stuff in there people want to steal." Not just in the car but also around the house, "don't present easy targets. Don't make things easy to see," he said.

But. "I believe that the biggest - the biggest - thing that would help would be if people would call when they see things that aren't the norm," Oules said. Strange goings-on at the house next door might be due to a neighbor forgetting the key and climbing in the window (which was the outcome of one suspicious circumstances report in Brewster recently, Oules said). But it might not be - it might be a bad guy. That uncertainty - that little reluctance to say anything when they're not sure what's going on - frequently leads people to hesitate about calling law enforcement when they see something "a little suspicious," Oules said.

"A lot of times, it's the smallest little thing that helps us solve crimes," Rogers said. "We'll take any tip." An incident that looks maybe just a little odd to the average person might look different to a police officer; "it may not be anything to them, but it may be something to us," Rogers said.

In October four Omak-Malott area men were arrested and charged with a number of burglaries, mostly in southern Okanogan County, including a trailer owned by Gebbers Farms and used by Japanese students working in Brewster as part of an exchange program. After that burglary "we were told who the suspects were," Oules said; somebody who saw or heard or knew something called the police. Not all that information is going to be reliable, or correct, Oules said, but "we'd rather sort through 14 false names to find a true name than have no name."

Stolen stuff ends up somewhere; if somebody shows up with expensive equipment that's normally outside their price range, "that should be a red flag," Oules said, especially if the person says they didn't buy it. People in that situation need to "apply personal life experience to the stories they're being told," he said.

"Somebody knows what happened," Gjesdal said of the armed robbery in Bridgeport - maybe the robber was seen ditching clothes or acting suspiciously, or maybe he bragged about it. But maybe the people who know are intimidated. Maybe a little crime is a price people are willing to pay for an ostensibly quiet neighborhood. Well, maybe not.

"They're just going to have to stop taking it," Gjesdal said. "Don't tolerate of any of this garbage." Gjesdal said he's been in law enforcement more than two decades, and in that time he's had one case of a reprisal against someone who reported a crime. Reprisals can happen, but crime and reprisals will get worse if people let them happen, he said.

More common, however, is the complaint voiced by a Pateros resident attending a recent Pateros City Council meeting; the man had been the victim of a petty theft, but declined to report it, because when he did make a report, nothing seemed to happen.

Rogers said police won't solve every crime. But all of that information is recorded, and it can help focus law enforcement efforts. "We track everything," Rogers said, and reports show where crime is going up and where it's going down, and police will concentrate their efforts where the crimes are. In addition, many a criminal has been caught for one crime and in the meantime confessed to another, he said. Sometimes crooks will pass on knowledge about crimes they didn't commit but know about. "Anything suspicious, call us," Rogers said.

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