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W.Va. police say rash of burglaries might be related

January 31, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Several Berkeley County nighttime residential burglaries in the past few months appear to be related, according to three law enforcement agencies, which have launched a coordinated investigation to catch the thieves.

"These people are ... obviously pretty cunning at how they're operating," Berkeley County Sheriff W. Randy Smith said.

The crime spree is being investigated by his department, the West Virginia State Police and the City of Martinsburg.

From Nov. 5 to Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department handled 17 "burglary in progress" reports and a number of vehicle larcenies, robberies and attempted burglaries, Smith said. West Virginia State Police Sgt. T.C. Kearns said Wednesday in a news release that about 20 nighttime burglaries within the past 60 days appear to be related. A ranking Martinsburg Police Department officer said Wednesday that he understood only "a few" burglaries were reported in the city.

The most recent nighttime burglary investigated by state police happened at a home off Spartan Drive in the Fairfield subdivision, a development just north of Martinsburg, according to Kearns.

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Kearns said many of the burglaries have happened between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. at homes occupied by older people.

The burglars have entered through unlocked windows and doors and rummaged through cabinets and drawers. They take wallets and purses, Kearns said.

Occasionally, they take prescription medicine, Kearns said in the news release, which was distributed by 1st Sgt. E.D. Burnett.

The wallets and purses are emptied of cash and usually discarded nearby," Kearns said. "In each case the residents have been home asleep when the suspect(s) entered."

At the Sheriff's Department, a county map plotted with five colors of plastic-tipped pins indicates that many of the reported burglaries, attempted burglaries, robberies and vehicle larcenies investigated by deputies have happened just outside Martinsburg's boundaries and in northern Berkeley County along U.S. 11.

Smith said the number of nighttime burglaries have been trending upward, thanks to criminals who have no fear of the consequences of a possible confrontation with a homeowner.

Police have been conducting neighborhood watches and Smith said residents should install alarm systems that make noise and cause lights to flash when triggered, instead of "silent" alternatives that he said he believes are a waste of money.

Smith said he also is reminding people that they have a right to arm themselves and protect their loved ones when a burglar enters their home.

"If they flee, let them go," Smith said. "When they're in your house, that's your castle. ..."

Kearns said the state police, the Sheriff's Department and Martinsburg City Police were following several leads and, like Smith, urged residents to lock all windows and doors.

Kearns encouraged residents to report any suspicious activity between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. to 911 dispatchers.

He also is asking residents who recall suspicious activity during the timeframe but didn't report it to call the state police at 304-267-0001. The Sheriff's Department can be reached at 304-267-7000.

"When something's going on, don't wait to call in - call in right now," Smith said.

Individuals who provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the crimes may receive a reward of as much as $1,000 from Berkeley County Crime Solvers, Kearns said.

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