Home burglaries on the rise
Mark Dinkel was working his normal shift at the Idaho National Laboratory on Halloween.
A long time member of the INL's Special Response Team and former Air Force security forces officer, Dinkel knew he locked his doors and windows before he left for work that day.
When he returned to his empty house, there were lights on inside.
"All of a sudden, I saw jewelry boxes laying (on the floor), going from the bedroom to the front door, and I knew at that point things were bad," Dinkel said.
Dinkel is one of the 289 victims of residential burglaries that has been reported in Bonneville County so far this year.
Prosecuting Attorney Bruce Pickett said home burglaries as well as nonresidential burglaries are on the rise.
In 2012, there were 235 home burglaries reported and 174 non residential burglaries. As of Nov. 13 this year, there were already 289 home burglaries reported and 193 nonresidential burglaries.
Pickett said he cannot identify one single reason why burglaries are climbing, but he said the trend is concerning for local officials.
"With residential burglaries … you have a high risk of people confronting each other where the person breaking into the home confronts the homeowner and you have an immediate crisis situation, and that can escalate into violence," Pickett said.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Trent Belnap said that while it has not been a common occurrence in eastern Idaho, there is a potential for violence in home burglaries.
"The residential burglary is an especially serious crime because it's one step away from violence," Belnap said. "They (the burglars) have the intent to commit a crime, they also have an intent to get away with it. Someone happens to be in there and they weren't expecting to be in there, something bad can happen. Sometimes the homeowner will have a gun and in defense of themselves, will fire a shot. In general, a person can take what measures are necessary to defend themselves in a situation."
Dinkel said in order to get into his home, the burglar used a rock from Dinkel's own yard and smashed a basement window. The burglar, who Dinkel said was arrested last week in connection with a string of home burglaries, then walked up the stairs and into Dinkel's bedroom. From there, he stole several small items and left through the front door, leaving it ajar.
"Everything was small items: watches, rings, necklaces, small items. Stuff he could stuff in his pockets, and he walked right out the front door like he owned the place," Dinkel said.
According to Dinkel, the burglar had broken into a neighbor's home first, and was caught off guard when he realized someone was home. That neighbor called out when she heard footsteps, Dinkel said. When the woman called out, a man replied, "It's your cousin."
Dinkel said she set her dogs loose and the burglar escaped. Dinkel said he believes that's when the man targeted his house.
Belnap said most burglars are not looking for a confrontation and are looking for homes that are vacant.
He said it is best to keep a TV on or a few lights on inside the home to make it appear that someone is there. In the era of being green, he said that is difficult for people to want to do, but it can prevent someone from being an easy target.
"(They) don't want to be caught, so they're not going to take chances on a home that appears to be occupied," Belnap said.
Sgt. Jeff Edwards with the Bonneville County Sheriff's Office said in order to deter burglars while on vacation, it is important to have a neighbor or friend stay at the home or even simply shovel the walkway. He said it is also a good practice to ensure the neighbor doesn't leave a foot of snow at the base of the garage where it is evident that a vehicle is not entering or leaving the driveway.
Belnap suggested having a neighbor drive on the driveway to leave tire tracks in the snow.
He also said that sometimes that will not work, because most of the time, burglars know when a family is on vacation.
"Most of the victims actually know the suspects in ways they don't anticipate," Belnap said. "(Sometimes it's a) friend of their child. They pick that house because they know there's stuff in it, they know the layout of the home and they know what to expect."
In Dinkel's case, the burglar was a stranger, but rather than stealing electronics or expensive items, the burglar took what was most sentimental to Dinkel.
He said the suspect took his 1981 class ring from Columbine High School. It was that piece of unusual jewelry that was turned in to the pawn shop that got the burglar arrested. But Dinkel said the most valuable items were never recovered, like his dad's silver ID bracelet from the Army or and the watches that were handed down to him when his father died.
"Some things just can't be replaced," Dinkel said as he teared up. "You can go buy a silver bracelet but you can't re-buy your father's silver bracelet. And for him, it was just something to melt down and sell off. For him, it was just another high. It was just another fix."
According to Belnap, the majority of the cases brought to his office never have a conviction because they don't know who the suspect is. But when they do, it's usually drug related.
"The majority of people we have that are committing these types of crimes are addicted to drugs," Belnap said. "Drugs seem to be a driving factor. I don't think they would do it otherwise if they weren't addicted."
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