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Hard times lead to desperate crimes?

NORTH CANAAN —In past years, a late-spring spate of crimes would have been chalked off to warm weather and restlessness after a long winter. But the police logs at the state police Troop B barracks in North Canaan are suddenly jammed with usual, unusual and almost unbelievable crimes.

Thieves are boldly stealing boats and ATVs from yards, cell phones from cars and dragging an 800-pound safe through a broken pharmacy window. Many crimes are occurring during broad daylight.

“They are definitely taking bigger chances,” said Troop B Commander Lt. Scott Anderson. “It’s the economy. People are getting desperate. Employers are scaling back and jobs are fewer, just when people are looking for extra income.”

Anderson noted that drug addicts are always out there. He commented on the recent Sharon Pharmacy break-in. Thieves smashed the front window and hauled out a large safe filled mostly with narcotics estimated to have a $70,000 street value. It happened during a power outage when the alarm wouldn’t be working.

“It was still a pretty bold crime,” Anderson said. “It’s certainly not what we’re used to seeing around here.”

Close to home

As investigations proceed and suspects are being arrested, it is becoming apparent it is no longer out-of-towners victimizing the “quiet corner.” In the last few weeks a Torrington man was charged in a Lakeville burglary, a Sharon man was arrested for robbing his neighbor’s home, a Salisbury teenager was charged with a Salisbury burglary and another Salisbury man was charged in an unspecified burglary.

In less than two months, 21 burglaries have been reported, at homes and businesses. That doesn’t count a large number of incidences of computer and credit card fraud, bad checks and drunk driving, which could be a result of uncertain economic times.

Anderson suggested some of the thefts may be driven by a need for gas money. Not surprising, but eye-opening nonetheless.

For most, what is most difficult to deal with is not the loss of property, but the loss of a sense of security.

A guest at a local inn left his laptop unattended, coming back a moment or two later to find it gone. A rare coin collection was taken from an elderly man’s home. A man was arrested after regularly stealing videos at a supermarket. A restaurant reported an inside theft. Decorative iron vases were pinched from the foot of a driveway.

Hiding behind the desk

A June 13 incident at the Douglas Library in North Canaan is an example of how people feel just plain violated.

The library had closed about an hour before a member of its board of directors happened to walk by at 9 p.m. Asking to remain unnamed, he told The Journal he noticed an outside light at the back entrance had been left on. He discovered the door unlocked.

Once inside, he saw a male, about 18 years old, kneeling behind the librarian’s desk. Although he figured out immediately what was going on, he confronted the individual as if he hadn’t.

“I really wasn’t sure what to do. But he seemed calm. I asked him what he was doing. He tried to talk his way out of it. I was trying to decide if I should grab him. When I reached for the phone he ran.”

The burglar was known by the board member and left behind substantial evidence. He was caught by security cameras at the bank next door, not only running away, but coming back to retrieve his bicycle. He used a pair of scissors to jimmy open a locked desk drawer and grab a small amount of cash. He cut himself in the process, leaving bloody paper towels. A K9 police dog tracked the suspect as far as the Canaan Car Wash, where he lost the scent.

The board member is pretty certain the door wasn’t left unlocked. The librarian who closed up that night is very conscientious. All doors have keyed deadbolts.

“And what are the chances this kid happened to come by an hour later and try that door?” he said.

He believes the culprit hid in the library, waited until it was empty, unlocked the door to ensure a quick getaway and then went to work on the desk drawer.

An arrest has not been made yet but is expected.

The board had a regular meeting scheduled this week and intended to discuss security measures.

It’s not easy to accept that our sense of security is diminished. But it makes no sense to ignore the situation and not take measures to avoid being victimized, Anderson said.

“It’s a personal choice,” Anderson said. “If people would rather take chances than feel they have to lock their house and car, that’s their decision. If they want to leave things that are valuable out on their property, like a boat, they might think about some way to secure it.”

This area may already have a reputation as an easy target, but it’s not too late to turn that around.

“Comparatively speaking, when you look at the big picture across the state, the crime rate here is still pretty low. People need to make it harder for the criminals.”

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