County faces uptick in property crimeNearly a million dollars’ worth of property has been stolen in Douglas County so far this year.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Nearly a million dollars’ worth of property has been stolen in Douglas County so far this year.
The numbers are split fairly evenly between city and rural losses — $477,000 in Superior and $479,000 in rural Douglas County, according to information provided by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re getting hammered with thefts and burglaries,” said Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec. The number of incidents has been ticking up, he said, fueled in a large part by drug use.
The wave of property crime is affecting every area and town, he said, with thieves making off with a wide array of items. Copper, including grounding plates, pipes and cable from remote buildings as well as live telephone lines, are being targeted. But thieves are also snatching riding lawnmowers, scrap metal, firearms, electronics, even food and laundry baskets, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Schnell.
“Everything’s being taken,” he said.
Both individuals and businesses are preyed upon, some more than once. Live telephone cable has been stolen from the same stretch of County Highway E about half a dozen times this year, according to Russell Cook, area plant supervisor for CenturyLink. The thief made off with more than copper; they stole peace of mind. Each theft left about 50 homes with no landline phone service for about 12 hours.
“During that time they can’t call 911,” Cook said. And if the thief cut the right cable, he said, it could take down cell phone towers in the area as well.
The thefts have occurred in the same 500-foot stretch of road between Munnings and Rockmont roads, with about 200 feet of cable taken each time. The incidents are part of a rash of property crimes targeting phone lines, construction sites and cell system towers in rural, remote areas, Cook said. The cost to repair the line after each incident can run as high as $5,000. CenturyLink ran into similar problems three years ago along the Sam Anderson Hill Road. After a string of phone line thefts in 2010 and 2011, the company buried the stretch of cable three feet underground. The business is in the process of planning a similar fix for the County Highway E spot. Cook estimated the two-mile project will cost about $50,000. A photo of the thief, captured during a recent incident, has been posted on the new Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, Douglas County, WI. Sheriff’s Office.
How can a community cope with such a barrage of crime? By being alert, according to authorities.
“People need to be vigilant and contact us if they see anything suspicious,” Schnell said.
“Don’t just keep an eye on your property, keep an eye on your neighbor’s property,” Dalbec said.
If you do notice a suspicious car or person, they said, get a detailed description. When someone calls in with a suspicious vehicle license plate, the sheriff said, they check it out. They also encouraged people to call 911 right away.
“It’s not going to do us any good 12 to 14 hours later,” said Douglas County Chief Deputy Jerry Moe.
Security lighting, yard lights and locked doors can help scare off criminals. An infrared trail camera that costs between $70 and $210 can be set up to help identify criminals or their vehicles after an incident. Documenting the VIN and serial numbers of vehicles, household items, electronics and firearms can aid law enforcement in catching criminals and put stolen goods back into the original owners’ hands. Owners who keep scrap metal and other tempting items somewhere far from the sight of passing motorists may deter thieves, too.
“People just need to be more conscious about giving these criminals opportunity to commit a crime,” Dalbec said. “You can lessen the chance of it by keeping an eye and ear out for yourself and your neighbor.”
The sheriff said he is in the process of looking into strengthening Douglas County’s laws governing second-hand and pawn shops. The office also launched a Facebook page Tuesday as a way to reach out to the community and offer people a forum to leave comments and tips. They got 638 likes in less than 24 hours. Most of all, the department is asking for the public to pitch in.
“We’ve got three, maybe four deputies on the road at one time,” Dalbec said. “Our eyes can’t be everywhere.”