Property crimes spike in Harbor

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer December 31, 2013 10:07 am

Crime, mostly car thefts and home burglaries, has spiked in Harbor over the past few months, and it’s only going to get worse, said Curry County Sheriff Lt. John Ward.

“We’ve been saying it’s just going to get worse, and it is,” he said.

The county is down to its last few months to find a solution to its financial woes, which exist due to the county’s low property tax rate of .599 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation — the second lowest in the state — and the discontinuation of federal timber revenue.

 

It’s resulted in drastic cuts in county government, notably the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff John Bishop was recently able to hire a road deputy to cover more than 1,600 square miles in the county. Another deputy is in training.

That brings the ranks to five — and criminals know it.

“We believe, and this is my own opinion, that some locals are doing it,” Ward said of the Harbor crime spree. “Most of the (stolen) stuff is ending up in the Smith River area.”

Law enforcement in Curry and Del Norte counties are working together in some of the cases that originated in Oregon and are ending up in California.

The police log

In the past two months alone, six vehicles have been stolen from the Harbor area, Ward said.

Just last week, two large utility trailers, one filled with about $15,000 worth of tools, were stolen.

“The owner went down (south) and found one along Oceanview in Smith River,” he said. “He recovered it, but it had a lot of tools taken.”

The whereabouts of the other trailer, owned by the same man, is unknown. A vehicle was hot-wired and stolen from a driveway on Holly Lane earlier in December; it was recovered when an officer pulled it over in Smith River; three of the four occupants were taken into custody, but the fourth escaped.

The vehicle was spray-painted black. Another vehicle, stolen from a house near the California border, has yet to be recovered.

Numerous break-ins have also been reported in the past month in Harbor.

“There have been several on Olson Lane, thefts and burglaries,” Ward said. “They’re breaking into people’s houses and stealing stuff.”

In one incident, a man saw someone he didn’t recognize on his neighbor’s property and called to alert them. He then heard noises on his own property and scared away the person — who in his flight, left behind items he’d stolen from the neighbor’s house.

By the time a deputy could get to the house, the perpetrator was long gone, Ward said.

Other citizens have been reporting finding their vehicle’s gas caps removed — and presumably, less gas in the tank. And reports of “car clouts” — when a thief breaks a window to get into a car — are on the rise, as well, with at least a dozen reported in the past month.

In another case, thieves broke into a house and stole items — while the family slept. Some items were found along the wall of a gated community that backs the house, including a generator covered in leaves the homeowner believes the thief was hiding with the intention of retrieving.

The homeowner had been warned three days earlier that a stranger had been seen poking around in another neighbor’s side yard.

“I think they go out and case it,” Ward said of the thieves’ operations. “They’ll drive around and figure out who isn’t home and come back at night. Sometimes they just do it at day, knowing people are not at home.”

Some people aren’t reporting thefts, including a woman who noticed missing tools from her shed. Law enforcement officials say all such activity should be reported in case the items stolen are found and in case a clue is discovered that could help solve other crimes.

Response

Law enforcement officials believe the thieves are local and operating in a small group.

We have our ideas and suspects,” Ward said. “They range back and forth from Smith River and Brookings. Eventually, we hope we’ll get them.

“People are getting desperate,” he continued. “They get away with it once or twice, and they continue to do it until it all comes to a head.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t know when that will be.

“They know when we’re not on duty, and it’s no secret we don’t have the resources or manpower,” Ward said. “More deputies would make all the difference in the world.”

Complaints about transients, drunken behavior and other problems at the Port of Brookings Harbor are being aggressively pursued, Ward said.

“It’s just constant,” he said. “It keeps us pretty busy, just taking reports. We’re all frustrated. The guys I have, they work their butts off, and with the looming possible layoffs, it’s pretty tough.”

The Sheriff’s Office lost another dispatcher Monday, which will cut down on available services that much more, as they are cross-trained as deputies, as well.

“It is what it is,” Ward said. “Unless we get some secure funding and are able to hire more deputies to put on the road, it’s not going to get any better. People don’t realize until they become a victim of a crime.”