Patrick Robinson
The community surrounding this North Admiral neighborhood water tower has seen a rash of burglaries and thefts in recent months.

Burglary experts cover the latest West Seattle trends

Seattle Police Detective Jill Vanskike spends her days focused on residential and industrial burglaries, from tracking down perpetrators in real time when a 911 call comes in to evaluating evidence in the aftermath, tracking stolen goods that show up at pawn shops, and keeping an eye on known crooks who have been released back onto the streets after a jail stint.

On May 21, Vanskike and CPT Officer Jonathan Kiehn joined the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council to talk about what they are seeing on the ground and share some tips with the community on how to safeguard their home and, possibly, get their stuff back once the dastardly deed is done.

What the experts are seeing
Vanskike said the general profile of our burglars are juveniles in groups of two to three (there are, of course, adults as well) , often times traveling to West Seattle from other parts of King County while people are at work and kids are at school. The modus operandi is to have one person knock on the door (while in communication with the others, usually by cell phone). Meanwhile, the other two are working their way into the backyard where they will break into a window or door once the coast is known to be clear. Once inside, they generally focus on high-end electronics (Apple products are a favorite), gold and silver jewelry, cash and guns.

She said police are also seeing more and more burglars wearing gloves during the commission of a crime, making it more difficult to ascertain fingerprints.

Prevention: There is no silver bullet
Officer Keihn said burglary prevention is all about taking a multitude of small steps, as there is no magical method to prevent someone from entering your home if they chose it as a target.

If you are home when someone appears to be breaking in, police recommend yelling out, “Hey, what are you doing!” or “Honey, can you get that?” to make it clear someone (or more than one) is home. Vanskike said burglars generally don’t want to run into anyone. Home invasion robberies, she said, generally involve a pre-planned target where the robber and victim are somehow affiliated. If the perpetrator still tries to get into your home after making your presence known, police recommend getting to a safe, locked room and calling 911.

The list of things to do with your home start with the outside, and pertain to the principals of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). One of the main concepts is to keep your yard and home easily visible to neighbors. Ten foot high solid fences and towering shrubs, while providing us privacy while we are home, also provide burglars privacy once they are on your property. To learn more, check out the Herald’s prior coverage here.

Home alarm systems and posted signs letting everyone know they are in place can also act as a deterrent.

In the warming summer months, avoid the temptation to leave windows slightly ajar when you leave to keep the house cool.

There are near infinite resources found online. We recommend simply searching “burglary prevention” and seeing what comes up, or visiting the City of Seattle's information page found here: http://www.seattle.gov/police/prevention/Neighborhood/burglary.htm

The last, and possibly most important tip discussed on the night was to get involved or start up a block watch with your neighbors. Folks watching out for folks and their property (and for people on the block who don’t belong) are invaluable techniques.

Once it happens, tips on getting your stuff back
As Vanskike put it, “If they want in, they’ll get in.”

She recommends everyone create an inventory of their significant belongings, including description of the product and any markings it may have (that ding on the corner of the TV from moving it in, for example), serial numbers and price. The benefits here are both for police in investigating where your items might pop up for potential recovery, and for your negotiations with the insurance company for a claim.

Another technique is to etch your driver’s license number into the product. Identity thieves can’t do anything with a DL#, and it’s a great way to identify your belongings.

Burglary case study: Neighborhood feeling under siege
The number of reported home burglaries in West Seattle varies quite a bit, but in our weekly Police Blotter tabulation we generally see anywhere from 10 to 20 reports every seven days. Those incidents are normally spread across the peninsula with no immune areas, but at times a certain neighborhood becomes a target and gets hit enough for neighbors to take notice and start to worry.

That’s how it’s been for the neighbors in a two-block radius near 39th and Bradford in the North Admiral district, who have seen five different homes hit in the last few months along with other thefts.

We talked with a resident who asked to remain anonymous (to protect his identity, more on that later) about their experience.

Perched at high altitude, the neighborhood is fairly well known to many West Seattleites due to its iconic water tower and the Helmstetler Family Christmas Spectacular display put on each year. The homes are generally well-kept, the neighbors are friendly, and there are always plenty of young kids running around.

The resident we spoke with has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, and said he has never heard of so many burglaries in such a short period of time. As we drove around the neighborhood, he pointed out five homes broken into over the last handful of months. A truck and drift boat have also been stolen, and someone stripped a stolen powerboat in an alley … all of this within a few blocks.

“It’s a tight neighborhood,” our guide said, “We all look out for each other even if we all don’t get along.”

All the burglaries have occurred midday, and two were even on Sundays. This is rare as thieves generally work Monday through Friday (with the highest probability of an empty home). It’s made them wonder if the person behind it knows about their lives, their schedules. Rumors have swirled about a known drug user who moved away from the area about a year back, and who has been spotted driving in the ‘hood a few times recently, but there is no evidence connecting him. This, by the way, is why our guide decided to remain anonymous.

“I think our neighborhood is now asking, ‘Who’s next?’” our guide said, whose home hasn’t been hit yet.

Lt. Davis with the Southwest Precinct said the best thing the neighborhood can do is call 911 whenever an incident occurs so SPD can evaluate the when and where of who’s being burgled. He also recommended they crank up the already tight neighborhood to an official block watch, with ways to communicate with each other and get on the same page about suspicious behavior and reporting it quickly.

“We are constantly in and out of the house,” the neighbor said, echoing a concern felt by so many as they are forced to leave their homes dormant for long stretches of the day.

Our guide grew up in West Seattle and said he has really seen an uptick in crime in the last ten years across the peninsula. While West Seattle still has that small town feel that many cherish, development is moving it in a more urban direction, with higher density and, seemingly, higher crime rates. It makes him wonder if it’s time to move on.

“I tell people I have an exit plan to get out of Seattle. I don’t know where I’d go, but it’s just too bad,” he said.

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