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Vigilance for burglaries urged

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LAKE COUNTY — The number of burglaries that occurred in Lake County during the first half of 2013 was down almost 30 percent from the same period in 2012, but authorities and victims of recent thefts want to make sure that number continues to decrease.

“It’s not an isolated thing that’s happening in another state or another region of the country,” Ronan resident Thom Chisholm said. “It’s happening right here in our small town communities where we want to trust everyone’s on the up and up, but the truth is everyone’s not.”

Chisholm’s home was burglarized on Dec. 12 in broad daylight. The thieves took 18 firearms and 28 other kinds of valuables.

“The realization hits that someone has entered into your personal space without your permission and pretty much turns your world upside down, literally and figuratively,” Chisholm said.

The family was able to replace its material belongings, but after chats with friends and neighbors in the area, discovered several similar burglaries had occurred in the same time frame.

“We need to protect ourselves and help one another,” Chisholm said. “We live way out in the country and need to be able to make sure we really know who our friends and neighbors are, make contact with them and keep an eye on each other’s place.”

Vigilance can make a difference, Lake County Undersheriff Dan Yonkin said. “Every time I read another burglary report it seems like somebody saw something, maybe the mailman or somebody else, who saw something suspicious at the time, but they didn’t report it.”

It’s difficult to gauge whether or not there has been an uptick in burglaries in the past few months, because the county reporting system is complex and would require a manual count, Yonkin said. Statistics submitted to the Montana Board of Crime Control are current through May 2013. Those numbers show 33 burglaries occurred between December 2012 and May 2013, down from 47 burglaries in the same six months in 2012. In five of the past eight years, Lake County has ranked in the top 10 Montana counties with the highest annual burglary rates per 1,000 people.

Yonkin said much of the activity is tied to drug use, as thieves try to sell their loot in exchange for narcotics or money to buy the substances. Law enforcement has made it more difficult for stolen items to end up in local pawn shops by increasing tracking in the stores, but the opportunity to sell to individuals still exists.

Reporting suspicious activity can help reduce burglaries, Yonkin said. Simple actions like locking doors and vehicles can also make it more difficult for burglars to access belongings.

Some Lake County residents take extra precautions.

“For a long time we contemplated installing a home security system,” Chisholm said. “We did — the day after we were robbed.”

Bill Koberg has owned Mission Valley Security for the past 17 years, and said recent shootings and other reports of crime have likely contributed to a recent increase in sales.

Advances in technology have also made systems more affordable.  Two decades ago a buggy wireless system cost around $1,700. Today, similar systems that work efficiently cost about $700, Koberg said.

Systems can sometimes create as many problems for law enforcement as they are meant to prevent. On average, sheriff’s deputies respond to two false alarm calls every day that tie up resources, Yonkin said. Some residences have had as many as 20 or 30 false alarms in a year’s time.

False alarms can be avoided by learning how motion detectors work, Koberg said.

“When we put the system in we set the system so that there are not things that are going to set off the detectors,” Koberg said. “But then they get things like balloons. Balloons are our biggest enemy.”

Holiday decorations that shift when heat vents blow air are also another common culprit.

Despite the false alarms, the systems are worth the investment and can often save homeowners expenses on their insurance, Koberg said.

“People want to feel safe,” he said. 

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