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Sheriff talks about Whidbey Island burglaries at meeting

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown talks about funding issues during a meeting on property crime in Coupeville Thursday.  - Justin Burnett / The Record
Island County Sheriff Mark Brown talks about funding issues during a meeting on property crime in Coupeville Thursday.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

About half of the 40 burglary victims who showed up at a special meeting with law enforcement Thursday night were from rural areas of South Whidbey.

One woman said her South Whidbey home had been hit four times in five years. Another woman said burglars took eight security cameras off the eaves of her home before breaking in.

Several in the audience at the Coupeville Recreation Hall described the problem as an “epidemic.” Many people expressed frustration with law enforcement and cross-examined Island County Sheriff Mark Brown about what can be done.

South Whidbey resident Rufus Rose, for example, said he wants to connect with other burglary victims to see what they can do “in concert” with the sheriff’s office.

Brown and other law enforcement officials from Langley, Coupeville and Oak Harbor tried to address the concerns, pointing out the difficulties in investigating certain types of crimes, the legal restrictions on police and the limitations of resources.

Brown even hinted that a law-and-justice levy may be coming to voters.

Still, many victims want to see more done.

Omer Lupien said he and a friend had $12,000 worth of tools stolen last Halloween while they were putting up a pole building on North Whidbey. He expressed frustration at the response he received from the Island County Sheriff’s Office. He and his friend started knocking on doors and found eight other burglary victims in the area; they even found suspects, but nobody was ever arrested.

“We never got a straight answer,” he said, referring to law enforcement. “We never even got a call back.”

Jennifer Yzaguirre, the community service officer for the Oak Harbor Police Department, explained that she volunteered to set up the meeting in order to help the sheriff, who doesn’t have the funding for such a position in his office.

The sheriff lost nearly a third of his force during recession-era budget cuts.

“I’m doing this to help you out,” Yzaguirre said. “I hope you realize I’m not your enemy.”

Yzaguirre contacted people from 185 residences that were burglarized over the past year and invited them to attend the meeting. She asked people from different areas of the county to raise their hands. There was only one person from inside Oak Harbor; the rest were from rural areas of North and South Whidbey.

Yzaguirre gave a PowerPoint presentation on ways to deter burglars. Some of the best strategies, she explained, are just ways to make breaking in inconvenient for crooks. Placing outdoor lighting, cutting back landscaping from homes, locking up fences and getting dogs are all great ideas, she said.

Yzaguirre emphasized the power of surveillance cameras in not only deterring burglars, but also catching them. She played a burglary caught on video at a Whidbey home that proved crucial in catching a burglar.

“That solved the crime, which doesn’t happen very often,” she said.

Yzaguirre explained that it’s somewhat rare to prosecute burglars for burglary since they usually have to be caught in the act to be charged. Most often, they are charged with possession of stolen property after cops catch them with the goods.

The officers also discussed ways in which residents can get more information about burglaries in the community.

Yzaguirre explained that people have a right to such information and said they can make public-records requests with the sheriff’s office or police departments.

Brown highlighted a Google Earth service that he provides. His department emails out weekly “calls for service” reports to residents which shows a log of 911 calls, which people can open on the free Google Earth program.

Anyone interested can sign up by sending an email to wylief@co.island.wa.us

Brown said his experiences with the Barefoot Bandit, the famous burglar from Camano Island, taught him just how much that type of crime affects the victims.

“It’s your space. It’s your private area no one else should be in,” he said.

“I get it.”

Brown said he’s in the process of rebuilding his force and that burglars and drug investigations, which are intertwined with such property crimes, will continue to be a priority.

Several of the victims said afterward that they felt the meeting was helpful and productive; one woman said she was going to take Yzaguirre’s advice on prevention strategies to heart.

Lupien, however, wasn’t so thrilled. He suggested that the police should focus on busting drug houses instead of giving slideshows of common sense information. As for the sheriff’s office, he doesn’t have a lot of patience for “excuses” about funding limitations.

“Look at the rest of us. I’m out here pounding nails for a living. It’s tough all around,” he said. “We found out more in three days than the detective could even tell us.”

 

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