Randy and Katie McMillen are advising people who use storage units to secure them with something other than cheap bike locks — and for those who haven’t visited their unit in awhile, to do so.

The couple had their unit at Mini Store-It in Harbor secured with a high-quality lock, but the unit behind theirs had affixed to it a bike lock that a burglar easily cut through sometime around Feb. 15, Randy said. The perpetrator then apparently used tin snips to cut through the metal wall between that unit and his, stole some items, opened boxes, strew things about and rifled through business documents that had personal information within them.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “I assumed it was secure, a safe place.”

The couple estimates they have suffered several thousands of dollars in damage and theft, but it will take about a month to go through everything, repack it and determine what’s missing.

Their suspicions were further aroused when at 1:30 a.m. the following morning, a white sedan with California plates pulled into the parking lot of their nearby house and gift store and loitered for a while before departing. He noted he now has a high-tech security alarm system installed.

Katie McMillen thinks that’s highly coincidental, considering it appears to her the burglar took the time to open and go through boxes of business documents in the storage unit — including taxes that have names, addresses and other sensitive information.

A surprise trip

McMillen and his wife regularly go to their storage unit as they use it in connection with their business, which they declined to name for fear of retribution. Randy last visited the unit Feb. 9 to retrieve some items, and returned six days later to find the mess. Missing are sleeping bags, backpacks and possibly some suitcases. Some items were broken when they were stepped upon or tossed aside.

And the perpetrator had cut a second hole in the top of his unit’s wall as if they were trying to peek into the adjoining unit.

The facility has several hundred storage units, a manager said, declining further information as the matter is still under investigation. A message was relayed to the owner, who did not return calls.

Katie McMillan is particularly distraught, saying she feels crime in the community has escalated in recent years. She said she’s also surprised storage facilities don’t require heavy-duty locks to be placed on units — and that no one has been arrested in connection with many thefts and near-thefts reported in the community outside of Brookings.

“Something is going on in this community,” she said. “What really unnerved me is to know that they went to look for things like that. Who would even think about cutting into storage units? They must’ve brought lights — it’s dark in there — and they were prepared enough to cut through the walls. Anyone could be vulnerable to this happening. And they’ve done it once; they’re going to do it again. They got away with it.”

Katie also wonders about people who put their possessions in storage and don’t return for months.

“For the amount of damage they did, they spent a lot of time in my unit,” Katie said. “They must have spent hours in there. This was not an amateur; this guy thought this out. What’s really bothering me most is, we live in a very small community, and our community is at risk right now.”

She encourages people who rent storage units everywhere to be sure to periodically check them and their possession.

“This could happen multiple times and people just don’t know it,” she said, noting the number of storage facilities in South County. “We go every week — how many people go every week? They wouldn’t know for months and months and months. This is a problem that has to be addressed.”

She said she was also disappointed that sheriff’s deputies couldn’t arrive to take a report until the next day.

“This whole community needs to be alarmed and aware,” Katie said. “There’s way too much going on. Where we live, it’s reality — meth, the drugs — but you’d think we’d have adequate and sufficient law enforcement and we don’t. Where are all the arrests? I’m a little bit disheartened by all this.”

Curry County citizens have rejected every proposed ballot question asking for property tax increases to support law enforcement. Sheriff John Ward, who recently has been able to fill vacant patrol deputy positions, acknowledged her concern, but noted they can’t be everywhere at once.

“We do a pretty good job patrolling areas,” he said. “Thieves are pretty smart when it comes to wanting to steal stuff and be concealed.”

He noted that a recent report indicating crime is down in Curry County “couldn’t be further from the truth.” That data came from a national reporting base to which county officials have been too short-staffed to contribute for the past two years. The office just recently started reporting its crime statistics again.

“I think it’s on the rise, and there’s a lot of crimes that don’t get reported,” Ward said, noting that people tend to notice more suspicious activity after they’ve been personally affected. “There’s a lot more drug crimes nowadays, which leads to other things: thefts and burglaries. It’s everywhere.”

“I feel it’s far worse than it’s been in the past,” Katie said. “If they don’t start making examples of these people and busting them, it’s just going to be a lawless community. We’ve got to stop this cycle.”