South Whidbey burglaries rise 38 percent in two years

Carolyn Tamler, who was recently burglarized, holds up a photo of family. Hers was one of 87 reported burglaries on the South End since June. Being the victim of a crime has made her remember what’s really important. - Justin Burnett / The Record
Carolyn Tamler, who was recently burglarized, holds up a photo of family. Hers was one of 87 reported burglaries on the South End since June. Being the victim of a crime has made her remember what’s really important.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

On a late Monday evening, Carolyn Tamler and her husband came home after a few days off-island to a sight every vacationer dreads — they returned to a house that had been burglarized.

Strangers had been in their home. They had entered without permission, riffled through their dressers and made off with about $10,000 worth of their belongings.

But while many have asked her since if she feels “violated” or unsafe in her home, the Freeland community blogger responds with a smile and a shrug. The thieves got away with some jewelry and expensive watches, yes, but an act of goodwill by a total stranger resulted in the recovery of something far more precious: her wedding photos.

“I can go out and buy another pearl necklace,” she said.

Losing the photos, however, would have been heartbreaking. They were found, along with some other items, along the side of Goss Lake Road by a man out for an early morning stroll. The thief had apparently discarded them as worthless the day before.

Tamler marvels at how they were stumbled upon just one day after the burglary. Had they been found much later, they almost certainly would have been ruined by Whidbey’s wet winter weather, she said.

Given the choice, Tamler said she’d take the pictures or the return of her cat, that disappeared a month ago, over some old, albeit valuable, jewelry any day of the week.

“We place so much value on things and stuff,” Tamler said. “It’s a wake-up call to what’s really important.”

That said, this has been an experience Tamler won’t soon forget and it’s shattered a bit of her island innocence.

“Sadly, we never worried about locking our doors, but we do now,” she said.

A rising trend

The Tamlers are not alone. According to the Island County Sheriff’s Office, there have been 87 residential burglary reports on the South End — from Houston Road south — between June 1 and Dec. 11.

That’s a rise of 27 percent from the 63 reported burglaries during the same time period in 2012, and an increase of 39 percent from the 53 burglaries that occurred during the same six months in 2011.

That compares to 105 on North Whidbey in 2013, 86 in 2012 and 97 in 2011 — again, all between June 1 and Dec. 11 of this year.

Some of the South End burglaries, about 30 in September through November, followed a specific pattern, according to Lt. Evan Tingstad, of the south precinct sheriff’s office. The burglar would knock on the door to see if anyone was home. If someone answered, they would make up an excuse for stopping by but if no one was home, they’d kick the door in or look for another way inside.

The same tactic is believed to have been used on the home of Rufus and Reece Rose in September. But unlike the Tamlers, they returned to a house that had been ransacked. Every dresser, every cabinet, anything that could be opened was rummaged through. The place was a mess and the thieves got away with thousands of dollars of personal items, including jewelry collected over 40 years of marriage.

But Rufus Rose said the worst part wasn’t the material wealth taken — it’s the emotional destruction the thieves left behind.

“It’s very frustrating to me because my wife is frightened all the time,” he said. “She’s scared.”

Tingstad noted, however, that he doesn’t believe all the burglaries are linked. Those that followed the same pattern from September through November may have been, but those are mixed in with more common and unrelated burglaries that happen every year.

“It’s not one person or a group of people doing all these burglaries,” Tingstad said.

Difficult to crack

Despite the spike in burglaries in 2013, sheriff’s office officials confirmed that only two arrests have been made on South Whidbey this year.

Part of the problem is a shortage of manpower, Sheriff Mark Brown said. The department is planning to hire four more officers, with one in the near future, and Brown hopes that will help, but the department will still have to make do with less than he believes is necessary.

“We’ll continue to do the best we can with the resources we have,” Brown said.

Another problem is that burglars, by the nature of the crime, can be hard to catch.

“It’s very, very rare to catch a burglar in the act,” said Sgt. Laura Price, of the South Precinct office.

Officers have to look for finger prints and use other traditional methods of investigation, but today’s burglars are savvy and the results are often wanting, Tingstad said.

“Solving burglaries with traditional investigative methods is rare,” he said.

According to Undersheriff Kelly Mauck, a rise in property crime is usually correlated with a rise in drug use. Tingstad agrees, though he looks at the correlation as a decrease in drug enforcement.

Once the new officer is hired, it will allow the department to promote an existing officer to become the department’s dedicated drug detective. Mauck is hoping that the new position, which will serve the entire county, will help make a dent in the number of burglaries.

He also clarified the 87 burglaries as the number of caller-reported crimes. Some are  mistakenly characterized and are really vandalism or trespassing so the actual number of burglaries is slightly less, he said.

He added, however, that the rise from years past is not something to discount.

“I’m not saying people shouldn’t be worried,” Mauck said.

Urban crime

While some have expressed complaints about the ongoing burglaries, neither Tamler nor the Roses blame the sheriff’s office for what’s happening.

Tamler said Tingstad responded to their reported burglary within 15 minutes of their call and was both professional and informative.

“He was one of the most remarkable things about all this,” Tamler said. “He just made everything a bit more comfortable.”

Rufus Rose said he had “no axe to grind” with the sheriff’s office and that the deputies who came to his home were courteous and took fingerprints, he said.

Rose doesn’t believe the problem should be laid at the feet of county law enforcement, saying burglaries would happen no matter how many deputies are patrolling South Whidbey streets.

“There is no realistic amount of money to prevent this crime,” he said.

Rose is pinning his hopes on community cooperation to both prevent and identify burglars. The couple is considering a means of a community-funded reward system for anyone with information that leads to arrests.

Exactly how that might work is unclear, but Rose believes something more must be done. This was the first time they were burglarized in 38 years of life on Whidbey.

“The only solution I can think of is to identify them,” Rose said.

As for Tamler, the experience affected her in a different way. Rather than searching for ways to end the burglaries, she’s focused on what she still has, the things she says are really important, such as family.

But like the Roses, life on Whidbey for her has changed.

“I really do think one of the messages behind this is Whidbey is not immune to urban crime,” Tamler said. “We think we’re in the is safe bubble, but we’re not.”


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