By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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A community safety meeting is set for 6 p.m. Friday at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.
The meeting was organized by community groups and by neighborhood watch groups to address recent burglaries, particularly in unincorporated Clallam County.
County Sheriff Bill Benedict is expected to attend, and other law enforcement agencies will have representatives at the meeting to answer questions.
“Stop thinking you’re in Sequim,” Isabelle Dunlop said.
“ Start thinking you are in an area where these things happen.”
Dunlop, who lost at least $15,000 in jewelry and other items in October when two men broke into her home through a tiny 10-inch by 12-inch window, said she is angry and wants the “scruffy” men, who she figured were between the ages of 30 and 40, caught and punished.
The burglars took small items, electronic, and decades worth of jewelry Dunlop said she received as gifts, or which were valued personal items that she could easily describe in detail.
“I wouldn’t be so mad if they just took TVs. They took things I can’t replace,” she said in a Friday interview.
A rash of burglaries in unincorporated areas of Clallam County have homeowners looking for their cherished belongings, and pushed community groups to schedule a citizens’ meeting Friday to address the burglaries (see accompanying box).
In 2011, there were 224 burglaries between Jan. 1 and Sept. 31 in unincorporated areas of the county and 284 in the same time period this year — a rise of 60 burglaries, Benedict said. There also was a 5 percent increase from 2010-2011, he said.
In October, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office reported 11 burglaries in the unincorporated Sequim area, 10 near Port Angeles, and two in West End areas, according to CrimeReports.com, a website that tracks police reports.
During the same time period there were three reported burglaries within the Sequim city limit, and 22 in Port Angeles.
In October, Port Angeles Deputy Police Chief Brian Smith said the burglary rate in Port Angeles was steady or a bit down.
“Whether we have 15 burglaries or 22, it’s still a big problem to us,” Smith said Friday.
The Police Department is always trying to reach a rate of zero burglaries each month, he said.
To underscore his point, Smith pointed out a recent burglary case in which a Port Angeles man was senenced after an investigation of an August burglary.
Paul Aaron McDonald, 30, of Port Angeles, was sentenced on Oct. 23 to serve 50 months in a state prison after pleading guilty to second degree burglary. He is required to pay restitution and a fine.
The number of burglaries in Forks have decreased from this summer, acting Police Chief Rick Bart has said.
On Oct. 23, Dunlop, a volunteer with the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the American Red Cross, returned home from a few hours at the volunteer center and found an old pickup in her driveway.
She thought the truck had broken down, opened her garage door to put her own car away, and entered her home through the back yard, looking for the owners of the truck.
“As I was at the other end of the house, they exited through the garage,” she said.
Dunlop chased them to their truck. They dumped arms-full of items from the house in the back of the truck and drove away.
Dunlop said she simply doesn’t trust people the way she did before her things were stolen, and is considering installing a video surveillance system.
“I need a sign: ‘Don’t try to steal from me — they already got everything,’” she said.
Some burglary victims have visited Sequim jeweler Julie Vig, owner of Plaza Jeweler, 511 E. Washington St.
Vig said that people bring in lists of stolen items, so that stores can identify jewelry that the burglars may try to sell or get appraised.
“I usually get one of these lists every six months to a year. Recently I get them every few days,” Vig said.
Some of the lists are quite extensive, including one that had three pages listing fine jewelry items that were taken, she said.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office formed a task force in October to concentrate on the spate of burglaries that have plagued the county for the last few months.
That task force — consisting of two full-time sheriff’s detectives, a Port Angeles detective, detectives from the Lower Klallam Elwha and Makah tribal police departments, and in consultation with Sequim Police Department detectives — has been working to identify those responsible for the crimes.
“We believe there are about 20 people responsible,” Sheriff Bill Benedict said.
It isn’t one large ring, but a number of small groups, two or three people each, who live in an area and break into homes in that area, he said.
Benedict said he did not believe they know the people whose homes they break into.
The task force is getting closer to identifying the burglars by working backward from the places where they are selling the items they have stolen, he said.
Most of the problem in the rural areas is that there are more places where burglars can hide, stake out a property, and to disappear quickly, Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson said.
“It’s harder to spot activity out there than in a dense neighborhood,” he said.
Bart, who is the part-time Forks Police Department administrator, said that the number of burglaries has dropped three months in a row.
He did not have the actual number of burglaries immediately available on Friday.
The change in seasons and the weather could be contributors to the decrease in burglaries, Bart said.
Forks police are also getting closer to the burglar or burglars responsible for recent city break-ins, he said.
Three public meetings in Forks were conducted about burglaries: on Aug. 19, Sept. 17, and Oct. 15.
Anyone with information about burglaries is asked to call the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office at 360-417-2459 or North Olympic Crime Stoppers, where an anonymous tip can be left, at 800-222-8477.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.