As horrifying and unbelievable as it may seem, break-ins during the day have increased over the years in and around Mattapoisett. I once heard a self-defense expert say that “you don’t hunt for deer in the city, meaning predators go where the prey is.” Mattapoisett homes have become prey to the bad guys. This past week, a police officer knocked on our door inquiring if we had seen or heard anything suspicious in our neighborhood. My reaction was, “Oh no, not another break-in!” Yes, a house across the street had been robbed. That makes three break-ins in less than a year less than an eighth of a mile from our front door; too close for comfort.
Our neighbors, the Booths, had been robbed. “I came home around 5:30 pm and noticed the slider door was ajar,” said Joseph Booth. He then went to find that his iPad was missing from the charger.
“I’m angry,” Booth declared. “How dare they come into my home, my sanctuary and take my belongings!” That sense of outrage will take some time to abate.
The neighbor contiguous to his property experienced a near miss last November. Cheryl Zeppenfeld told me, “I came home from work and there was a car in my driveway.” That car was waiting for a male who saw Zeppenfeld arrive and ran to the waiting car. The assailants got away before she could get a look at the registration number or get a description of the car. Although she reported the incident, there was little the police could do.
Most of these robberies are fueled by drugs and the need for cash. As sad as these individuals may be, their illegal activities leave behind a host of misery that spreads out, impacting surrounding families.
“I feel unsafe in a lovely neighborhood,” remarked Karen LaBonte.
“No matter what you do, you can never feel really safe,” stated Barbara Belanger. Belanger said security systems were alright, “but those can be breached, crooks know how to disarm [them].” And although both LaBonte and Belanger haven’t been directly impacted by crime, they have been affected by it. Their sense of wellbeing in this bucolic seaside village has been shaken.
They asked the same question I have: “What can we do?”
Captain Days of the Mattapoisett Police Department offered a few tips and insights when I spoke to him. First and foremost, “be aware.”
Days said, “People need to be more diligent if they suspect something. You shouldn’t be afraid to call the police if you think a person or car doesn’t belong in your neighborhood or in someone’s driveway. Don’t wait; call the police right away with as much detail as possible. Don’t approach the person or car yourself.”
He went on to say that getting a good description of a person’s clothing, gender, physical attributes, or a car’s plate number and description is critical to the police tracking down suspects.
“We want to look for the best in people so we may not think that a healthy well-groomed young person is really a criminal … Some of these people are new to drugs,” Days continued. “They may not appear hardened or sick from their addictions.” Male, female, teenage, middle-age, clean cut, average appearance, just plain ordinary-looking people may be criminals.
“They can work in pairs or groups,” Days shared. Armed with a cell phone and tools of the trade, the burglar gains entrance to the home, grabs small valuable items such as electronics, cash, jewelry, and yes, prescription drugs, then calls the gang members to get picked up. They are in and out of the neighborhood with stealth and speed.
“Don’t worry about being wrong. Don’t wait to call the police,” Days said. “It doesn’t do us much good if someone calls nine-one-one 30 minutes after seeing something that sets off their internal alarm.” Call immediately.
“It was the furthest thing from our minds,” said Charlotte Bellando. Living in a neighboring community, Bellando is a victim of a break-in. “We didn’t even realize we had been robbed until we went into the bedroom.” That was when her husband noticed a pillowcase was missing. “They used my pillowcase to carry my belongings out of my house!” she exclaimed. For the Bellandos, the ending was rather good. Most of their possessions were recovered when the criminals were apprehended. Many times, even when the perpetrators are caught, the stolen merchandise is long gone.
Days pointed out, “Some of these people have never been arrested before. Their fingerprints won’t be on file.” In the absence of useful fingerprint matches or witnesses, finding the burglars can be frustratingly difficult.
For the Belangers and the LaBontes, looking out for one another has now become part of the fabric of their lives. “I’ve always been careful to watch for people I don’t recognize being in our neighborhood,” LaBonte said. Now she’ll be even more proactive.
Belanger said, “Telling neighbors when you’ll be away is important. We can watch out for each other.”
Retired Fire Chief Paul Coderre believes, “A person could be totally innocent, or casing your house. Take nothing for granted.”
At the end of the day, no one wants to live in fear. But we all must take responsibility for being aware of our surroundings and the people therein. Days offered some final advice, “If someone stops you for directions, beware. Even the crooks have a GPS; they don’t need to get directions from you.”
Also, Days stressed that if someone breaks into your home while you are there, “get out of the house if you can and call nine-one-one.” If you can’t escape the house, hide with your phone and call nine-one-one. “Your address will show up in the station if you are calling from your land line.”
Simply being more aware and more diligent won’t stop the bad guys from invading our community. It will however, make us feel a bit more empowered and certainly will aid the police in their work protecting us and our homes. When stripped of a sense of confidence that you live in a place where nothing bad can happen, most of us will take empowerment over feeling like prey.
By Marilou Newell