Police Work With Stonefield Residents to Curb Rise in Burglaries
Residents from the Stonefield neighborhood flooded the Middleton Courthouse Saturday, where two officers, a detective, a captain and the chief of the Middleton Police Department provided details on the investigation into a recent spike in burglaries. Authorities called for a proactive, collaborative approach to help stymy the thieves who have recently zeroed in on the wealthy neighborhood.
Detective Troy Hellenbrand said there have been six burglaries in Stonefield since late last year. Investigators believe the break-ins are linked to at least two other burglaries in the Good Neighbor City, and as many as 28 in nearby Madison. (The latest occurred Friday night on North High Point Road in Middleton.)
“This is concerning to me, too,” Hellenbrand, who grew up in the Middleton, told the more than 100 Stonefield residents who crowded into the courthouse late Saturday morning. “I take this kind of personally when people tell me they are scared to come home.”
Captain Chuck Foulke said many area burglaries could be heroin related, with the thieves quickly exchanging the stolen goods for cash. Third parties may be selling the items to pawn shops, he said.
Police have gathered DNA evidence from liquor bottles they believe the culprits touched, and possibly drank out of, while in the homes they struck. However, analyzing that evidence could take several weeks - considerably longer than such lab work takes on procedural television crime dramas. “Unfortunately it’s not like CSI,” said Hellenbrand. Police believe the burglaries, in which thieves are taking items such as laptops, iPads and televisions, are being perpetrated by multiple individuals who are sharing information.
Chief of Police Brad Keil said that, while Middleton has a crime rate lower than that those of Madison, Dane County or the United States, this is the sharpest localized spike in burglaries he has seen in his nine years helming the force.
Law enforcement agents told the standing-room only crowd Saturday they have beefed up patrols in Stonefield, adding plainclothes officers to the neighborhood, and are actively pursuing leads in their search for “a large gang” that is “targeting certain areas.” Hellenbrand said “gang” in this sense means a general group, not an organized street gang.
The homes burglarized were all unoccupied at the time of the break-ins, and the thieves have usually been forcing side or back doors – sometimes with “mule kicks” - and grabbing what they can, then leaving quickly, said police. Most break-ins have occurred between 3 and 8 p.m.
“We can’t be everywhere,” said Hellenbrand. “We really need your assistance.”
Police also used Saturday as an opportunity to dispel several rumors about the crimes. Hellenbrand said there is no evidence the perpetrators have been linked to a snow removal company, and there is no evidence they are using the phone directory to determine their targets.
None of the homes burglarized had an alarm system turned on at the time, and all but one did not have a dog.
Investigators said residents should take action to make their homes look actively inhabited at all times. “If you aren’t home, leave a TV on, have your lights on a timer, or otherwise make your home look occupied,” said Hellenbrand.
The detective said criminals typically share information, but members of the Stonefield Neighborhood are collaborating as well. Stonefield residents have been actively patrolling their neighborhood and are relaying information to one another through their highly active neighborhood association.
(One neighborhood association member said 90 percent of Stonefield residents are connected through their “SNAnews” email program.)
They were so eager to ask police for information Saturday that much of the meeting turned into an extended question and answer session.
Jill Tutaj, the Middleton Police Department’s community awareness officer, urged civilians who have been patrolling their streets not to try to apprehend potential suspects. “Please don’t approach them,” she said. “If you see anything, call 911.”
She also advised victims to avoid touching anything until after police assess the scene, if they arrive home to find they’ve been burglarized.
Tutaj also reiterated what Hellenbrand told residents, saying to make every home look occupied. People going out of town should have a neighbor pick up their mail and leave tracks around the building to deter burglars, she advised. She also said to always close garage doors, and to install deadbolts instead of flimsy push-button locks. She said not to hide keys outdoors, and to inventory valuables in case there is a break-in.
She called Saturday’s meeting “a good start.”
Tutaj stressed what law enforcement agents call “the three L’s”: lights, locks and the law.
There are also signs Stonefield residents might be considering founding a neighborhood watch. One resident wanted police to set up a sting in an unoccupied house, but Foulke said the department lacks the manpower to post officers in a home for what could be weeks on end. Another resident asked police to work with the neighborhood mail carrier, who would be likely to notice any suspicious activity.
Police already sent out a reverse 911 phone call, alerting residents to take extra precautions to prevent burglaries.
Hellenbrand struck an optimistic chord on several occasions, lauding residents for their involvement in the investigation. “I believe we are going to made some arrests,” he told Stonefield residents.
Those in attendance, many of whom took copious notes throughout, applauded police at the end of the presentation. Speaking to members of the Middleton City Council on Tuesday night, Mayor Kurt Sonnentag reported on Saturday's meeting: “Everyone left feeling a lot better."