In Washington County, the sheriff's office has taken notice of the trend and warns criminals: We're after you.
By KEVIN GILES, Star Tribune
Last update: February 15, 2009 - 2:02 PM
It was a Friday morning in January when John Kummer found his wife crying on the living room floor in a sea of broken glass.
A burglar had smashed a patio door before ransacking bedrooms and stealing two rifles. He also left a trail of jewelry in the snow. She returned from church to find the mess, possibly no later than five minutes after the burglar left.
"A whole house full of glass," Kummer recalled this week at his Denmark Township restaurant, a quarter mile from his house. "Luckily my wife didn't run into him."
The Kummers' burglary experience is a typical one, said Mike Johnson, chief deputy in the Washington County Sheriff's Office. "Most people, honest citizens, don't think about this happening," he said. "Their sense of peace in their home is gone."
Washington County is taking the fight to burglars, watching for changes in how they target houses and trying to anticipate where they'll hit next.
The sheriff's office is paying special attention to organized burglary rings; in 2008, Washington County and four other police agencies caught five people accused of working together to hit houses. The ring had committed more than 40 burglaries in Washington County alone, Johnson said, apparently to pay for drug habits.
It's not that the county sees an upswing in burglary complaints -- 236 last year, compared to 258 in 2007 -- but large portions of the county remain rural, with isolated houses hidden behind banks of trees. Such places are prime targets for daytime burglaries after homeowners have gone to work, Johnson said. And most burglars, he said, now are coming from outside Washington County.
"We'd like to them to know that if they commit one here we're going to come after them," he said.
A Hastings-area man, Justin Blake Quade, 19, was charged in Ramsey County with possessing stolen property from the Kummer house after being arrested in Maplewood, the Washington County Sheriff's Office said. Information about the burglary has been forwarded to the Washington County attorney for possible charges, said investigator Mark Rindfleisch.
Kummer, who owns the nearby County Point cafe and bar on Hwy. 61 just north of Hastings, doesn't know if the burglar who hit his house knew it would be unoccupied. He said that he'd never had a theft at the house he built in 1960. The thief stole his Air Force insignia and medals. Some valuable diamond jewelry was sold right away, but the suspect later was caught with the rifles and other items, Kummer said.
"I guess it's mostly the invasion of privacy," he said. "It's kind of your castle, you know. A guy you don't know goes in and dumps everything you own on the floor."
Johnson said that burglars tend to steal cameras, computers and other electronics first. Jewelry comes second, firearms third. The latest pattern in Washington County is this: strangers knock on the doors of tree-screened houses on long driveways. If they find somebody home, they make excuses about looking for relatives, lost pets or gas stations. Burglars tend to be young adults who often steal cars for their lawbreaking antics.
A recent burglary captured on a home security video in Stillwater Township shows a thief arriving in a black car and walking casually to the door. He leaves, but soon returns and kicks in a door. A short time later he emerges carrying a small bag.
That burglary remains unsolved because the man's face is hard to identify and the car's license plate isn't visible. But he wore a bright orange or red stocking cap and jacket and seemed to know what he wanted, which raises questions about whether he knew the victims. (To see a video of the break-in, go to StarTribune.com | Videos from Minneapolis, St. Paul, the Twin Cities area and Minnesota
Law enforcement agencies have sophisticated methods of tracking stolen goods sold to pawn shops, but bolder burglars try to hawk them online through eBay and Craigslist. Homeowners should keep a record of model and serial numbers, he said, but also should know that thieves grab whatever's handy, including family heirlooms.
"We're looking at things that are very meaningful to families and victims, but have little meaning to criminals," he said.
Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432