Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Crime Beat Column: The Silent Crime: Retired Police Captain On Burglary Of Homes And Businesses

Through the Internet I located an old friend who served with me on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War.

Richard Stellacci was from the Bronx and we shared many a great time together on liberty in the wide-open city of Olongapo in the Philippines. I still have fond memories of our time there.

I contacted him and we swapped old sea stories and talked about what we've been doing since we left the carrier so many years ago.

My old shipmate is a retired police captain, having served 25 years with the Putnam County, New York Sheriff's Department.

I spoke to him about burglary - known as the 'Silent Crime.'

Burglary victims have told me about the outrage they feel when they discover their business has been trashed and their equipment and money has been stolen. They feel personally violated.

Richard Stellacci, an account manager for Mobile Tec International, a public safety software company in Tampa, Fla., knows about burglary. He retired from the Putnam County, N.Y. Sheriff's Department with 25 years of service, having risen through the ranks from Deputy Sheriff to Captain.

"I handled a lot of burglaries, from commercial businesses to residential homes," Stellacci told me.

"A lot of the victims had the same defects and made the same mistakes, such as forgetting to set their alarm. I always told business people that if you have an alarm system - use it!"

"When that alarm goes off, does it just make noise or does it go to a local police agency?" Stellacci continued. "Check it every once in a while. Call your police agency and tell them you're running a test."

Stellacci offered more of what he called basic, common sense advice:

Make sure your doors and windows are securely locked. Burglars are going to look for the easiest method of access to your business.

"Install solid doors," Stellacci said. "Don't get those balsam wood doors where I can punch my way through. If you make it difficult for a thief, he'll look somewhere else."

Stellacci also suggested that you illuminate your business, inside and out.

"If a police officer can see into your business, that's a benefit to you," Stellacci explained. "Especially have a light over where your money is -- your cash register, your safe, whatever. Have that in plain view from the street where a police officer can see inside."

"If you have a safe, don't put it in the back room. Put it where we can see it from the window. If it is in the back room, all a burglar has to do is break in the back, and he'll have all night to break into that safe. If the safe is in the front, he won't have that much time."

Stellacci said that he used to advise business owners to invite one of the Sheriff Department's investigators over to look at their property.

"Let him find the defects," Stellacci said. "He is out investigating burglaries every day. He knows how the burglars access the buildings, be it the rear door, the roof, or windows. Let him do a survey of your area. He can write up your defects, and then you can correct them."

A burglar can break in pretty easily if one has cheap locks. The harder the locking mechanism, the less chance a thief will rob you, Stellacci noted. He will look for a place with an easier lock to break in.

"Burglars like to work in the dark," Stellacci explained. "Burglars are normally chickens; they don't want to deal with anybody. That's why they rob at night when nobody's there. So keep your place well lit, and that will keep them away."

"Video surveillance cameras deter crimes like burglary, armed robbery, employee theft, vandalism, and murder," a Philadelphia homicide detective told me a while back. "But when a criminal is bold enough or dumb enough to commit a crime while a security camera is recording him in the act, the images help us apprehend and convict him."

The detective also told me that when police arrive at a crime scene, the first thing they do is look for video cameras. He also noted that when suspects are confronted with the images of them from the security cameras, they very often plead guilty on the spot.

Richard Stellacci recommends that business owners illuminate their businesses in order to discourage crooks from committing a robbery or an act of vandalism. A well-lit business also helps the passing police officer observe if anyone is committing a crime on the property.

Stellacci also recommends that business owners install a high-quality video surveillance camera system.

"At a lot of the commercial burglaries we saw the same mistakes that frustrated us," Stellacci said. "You see the businesses had a video system, and you say can you pop out that tape? Then the owners say it has been broken for quite a while, or the tape malfunctioned."

Stellacci said he would ask the business owner or manager when they last checked the tape and they would often respond that it has been quite a while.

"You have these crimes where basically you could have caught the guy walking in," Stellacci said. "Now we had no evidence because their camera isn't working or they forgot to turn it on."

Stellacci told me that they solved a good number of gas station robberies because gas stations seem to have the best video systems.

"I've been to bank robberies and I could not make out the face of the robber, that's how bad their camera systems were," Stellacci said. "Then we would go next door to a gas station where we could see a car or a body clearly from the tape."

Stellacci said banks were notorious for having the worst video systems. He recalled that he visited a bank that had been robbed twice.

"'Pop the video,' I told them, and it was the same garbage I saw two years earlier. Yet they chose not to do anything about it. All they were doing is hampering our investigation," Stellacci explained.

I mentioned to Stellacci that I know of some businesses that place their cameras directly on the employees rather than on the customers and potential robbers, because they are more concerned with the employee stealing. When that's the case, I tell the owners that they ought to install another camera.

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