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Blairsville break-ins under investigation

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

As Blairsville police investigate a series of seven burglary-related incidents reported in the town in June, borough Police Chief Michael Allman advised residents on some steps they might take to help deter break-ins.

Speaking at the June 26 meeting of the Blairsville Crime Watch group, Allman noted most of the unlawful entries occurred at vacant residential buildings and, in several cases, the premises were stripped of copper pipes or wiring.

Allman said police were in the process of checking with area salvage yards to see if any suspects had shown up trying to sell copper that may have been taken from the Blairsville homes. He noted salvage operators are expected to obtain information to share with authorities — by taking photos of the vehicles of individuals who come to sell copper pipe and recording their license plate numbers.

Allman reported one home under construction on East Chestnut Street was targeted twice,with copper wiring removed on June 6. During that incident, police believe, the culprit or culprits exited by the front door while the owner, who had become alerted to the burglary, called 911 from outside the rear of the building. Allman said borough police “were there within two minutes” but were unable to apprehend any suspects.

On June 19, two white males wearing black and carrying a crowbar were spotted walking onto the porch of the same home. Allman said police arrived to discover pry marks on the back door, but no suspects were found inside or outside of the building.

Allman noted that the total number of borough burglary incidents in June were higher than in the previous month.

“I think this is something to do with the weather breaking,” he said, adding that increased foliage during warmer months provides extra cover for would-be criminals who are looking to avoid detection by property owners and police: “The leaves are out now, and it covers up a lot of stuff.”

Allman suggested residents consider trimming back any shrubbery that is growing around their homes. “It keeps people from using it to hide behind,” he said.

He offered another tip for homeowners who have smaller windows or other glass panels in their exterior doors: A double-keyed lock that requires a key to be opened from the inside as well as from the outside can prevent a burglar from simply breaking the glass and reaching in to manually unlock the door.

Safety experts point out, however, that it might not be a good idea to use such a lock on a door that is part of a family's planned escape route in the event of a fire.

Having a lock on a door or window doesn't help if it isn't used, especially when no one's at home. According to Allman, in a June 20 daytime incident at an empty home, it appeared that a door was left unlocked.

There are other steps homeowners can take to protect their possessions. Allman said homeowners who are going on vacation can fill out a form to request that borough police make security checks of their property while they are away.

Another form can be obtained from borough police for recording a list of brand names, model and serial numbers and dollar values for such personal property as computers, electronics, microwave ovens, watches and cameras. It's recommended that the list be kept in a safe place along with insurance papers and photos of valuables such as jewelry, silver and antiques

Allman said he hopes to obtain several tools that could be loaned to borough residents for engraving unique numbers on valued possessions. When would-be-thieves see such engravings they may pass on taking an item because, the chief noted, “It's that much harder for them to get rid of it.”

A majority of the recent break-ins have occurred on the north end of the borough. Allman said police have increased patrols in that area, and he speculated that those responsible may live in that vicinity.

Allman provided the roughly 25 people in attendance a rundown of other June burglary incidents:

• June 5 — A basement at 144 S. East Lane was rifled through, but the only thing found missing was a pail of broken glass. It's unknown how entry was gained;

• June 8-12 — Cash was taken from a home on North Spring Street, and the owner has an idea who may have taken it. There was no sign of forced entry;

• June 14-15 — Bolt cutters were used to enter and remove copper pipes from an empty house on East Burrell Street;

• June 19-22 — Copper pipes, a drill and a Craftsman socket set were stolen from the basement of a vacant house on West Ranson Avenue.

Allman and Connie Constantino, who chairs the Blairsville Crime Watch group, urged citizens not to hesitate to call 911 if they observe suspicious activity.

It's better to be safe then sorry, Allman pointed out. He noted that a June 18 call to the scene of a possible burglary on Chestnut Street turned out to be a false alarm, but the witness who reported the incident to 911 was justified in calling.

According to Allman, two people seen inside a vacant house between 10:30 and 11 p.m. turned out to have legitimate business there — changing the locks due to a foreclosure on the property. But, he said, “That was a suspicious time, so it's a good thing they called.”

Constantino stressed that residents should always call 911 to report suspicious activity. She noted they should not call the local number for the borough police because officers may be elsewhere and not at the station at any given time.

Constantino said Crime Watch volunteers should merely observe and report and should not attempt to become involved in an incident they may witness.

In addition, she suggested residents could help make the borough a safer place to live by getting to know their neighbors better and by promoting positive activities such as block parties.

Anyone who would like more information about the Blairsville Crime Watch program can contact Constantino at cic2201@verizon.net or 724-459-0216.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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