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Whidbey burglary victims up in arms over lack of arrests
Omer Lupien was one of about 40 burglary victims to show up at a special meeting with law enforcement officials Thursday night.
Lupien said he and a friend had $12,000 worth of tools stolen last Halloween while they were putting up a pole building on Zylstra Road on North Whidbey.
Like several others at the meeting at the Coupeville Rec Hall, Lupien 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.”
Sheriff Mark Brown and other law enforcement officials from Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley 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.
“I know they are taking it seriously,” said Brooke Barnes, a North Whidbey resident who’s property has been hit repeatedly over the years, “but it’s hard to see what they are doing about it.”
Jennifer Yzaguirre, the community service officer for the Oak Harbor Police Department, explained that she volunteered to set up the meeting in order the 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 in which 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The sheriff’s office in recent months began providing more detailed reports about crime on the island to the Whidbey News-Times. Those reports are published under the heading “Island Scanner.”
At the end of the meeting, the law enforcement officials took a series of questions from the burglary victims and listened to their stories.
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.
A Central Whidbey woman said a man she hired to do some work stole from her.
“I think betrayal is the best word,” she said.
South Whidbey resident Rufus Rose said he hopes to connect with other burglary victims to see what they can do “in concert” with the sheriff’s office.
Brown said his experiences with the Barefoot Bandit, the famous burglar from Camano Island, taught him just how much that type of crimes 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 commonsense 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.”