The two crimes shared an eerie similarity. In both cases, a teenage girl came home after school to find that an intruder had entered through an unlocked door onto an enclosed porch, forced open a window and ransacked the family’s home while the occupants were gone during the day.
Both break-ins took place within the last month on quiet streets-one in North St. Anthony Park, the other in Como Park-where crime rarely intrudes. In both cases, the items stolen were minimal and the homeowners’ biggest loss was likely their peace of mind. But perhaps the most disquieting aspect of the crimes was that they happened at all.
The neighborhoods in the Bugle readership area like to think of themselves as gentle, friendly places where people cultivate the old-fashioned habits of looking out for their neighbors. But recent events, including a bank holdup with a kidnapping and a rash of less violent-but unsettling-thefts and home break-ins, have area residents asking if the area is changing. Is crime on the rise here?
“Everyone on the block was stunned” when her Como Park house was broken into, Deborah Allan said. It was the first time in 22 years in her home that her family had been targeted by an intruder. “[The robber] took a camera, what little cash we had in the house and my daughter’s ballet shoes.”
The theft of that last item was especially creepy, noted Allan. The thief paid particular attention to the family’s personal possessions, such as underwear and photos. “The feeling of going into your bedroom and finding drawers pulled out, everything dumped out … it definitely makes us feel more vulnerable.”
Although overall crime stats have been falling for several years in St. Paul, as in other cities, there has been a recent rise in burglaries in Districts 10, 11 and 12, which represent the St. Anthony Park, Como Park and the Hamline-Midway areas, according to senior commander Todd Axtell of the St. Paul Police Department’s Western District. The three districts reported a total of 43 residential burglaries in August and September, more than a 33 percent increase over 2009 burglaries for the same two-month period. Axtell stressed that, in general, this is a “great area” of the city, but he added, “we’re not happy with a 30 percent increase, but is [this] an alarming trend? No.”
It’s of little comfort to reflect on crime rates generally if yours is the house that’s been robbed, but statistically, the Como and St. Anthony Park neighborhoods remain among the safest in the city.
The other two communities in the Bugle distribution area, Lauderdale and Falcon Heights, have seen a slight decrease in home burglaries, according to Capt. Dominic Cotroneo of the St. Anthony Police Department.
Careful not to draw conclusions about the specific causes of individual crimes, Axtell explained there are circumstances that can cause a temporary spike in crime. Juvenile offenders can cause a rash of offenses before time brings the onset of maturity-or at least a change of locale. Then there’s the factor of the career criminal to consider. “Very few people commit most of the burglaries,” Axtell said. “We’ve seen burglaries spike when a particular individual gets out of prison.” Fortunately, many such crime sprees end with a speedy return to custody. When the career burglar is once more out of circulation, burglary rates return to their normal, lower levels.
In the meantime, what can a homeowner do to protect his or her property? Diane Hilden is crime-prevention coordinator of District 16 in the Summit Hill neighborhood, a locale similar to the Bugle area. Detached garages, houses that stand empty during the day and residents who tend to leave their doors unlocked are among the factors she cites as making the area attractive to prospective burglars.
“Think of me as a combination Mother Superior and nag [on the subject of property crime],” Hilden said. “I’m of the opinion that any house can be robbed if the intruder is determined … but a lot of crime is crime of opportunity.” And homeowners in these neighborhoods often create golden opportunities each time they come home. “They plunk down their purse or wallet and keys by the back door when they come in from the garage.” If the back door is then left unlocked, the house can be successfully burgled in less than five minutes.
“My advice has always been: Get to know your neighbors … become more suspicious and aware of your surroundings,” Hilden said, noting that in most cases common sense will prevent crime: Lock your doors and windows, even if you’re gone for only a short period; trim the shrubbery; make sure your house is well-lit; never leave valuables in visible locations in your car or garage. While familiar warnings, they often go unheeded.
“A couple of juicy crimes” make people temporarily careful, she said, “then it all goes back to normal after three months.”
Not if Allan and her family can avoid it. “We’ve reinforced the porch door,” Allan said. “We’re going to keep it locked. We want to make things secure.”
Judy Woodward is a reference librarian at the Roseville Library and a frequent contributor to the Park Bugle.
Theft from vehicles on the rise
Just as the Bugle was going to print, the St. Paul Police Department sent out an alert that theft from vehicles is on the rise citywide. Residents are advised not to leave valuables in their vehicles, always lock doors, park in well-lit areas or in a garage, and lock garage doors. Report suspicious activity to St. Paul Police by calling 651-291-111 or 9-1-1.