By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“What we are finding is an opiate drug habit seems to be the common denominator in our burglary suspects,” said Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict.
“It may well be they’re not connected to heroin, but it sure seems to be a lot of the same people,” he said.
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Detective Brett Anglin also said drugs seem to be a primary motivation for burglaries.
“I’ve found that to be the case in all of our investigations,” he said.
Burglaries rose 33 percent in Clallam County in 2012 over 2011, and law officials say the trend continued through the first month of this year.
“We’re definitely having a rash of these,” Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said.
In 2012, there were 384 burglaries reported in Clallam County, a large spike over the 289 burglaries of 2011.
This January showed no relief from the burglary wave, with 43 burglaries across the county, a leap from the 23 in January 2012.
“We certainly are seeing an increase in property crimes across the whole area,” Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez said, adding that the primary problem is an ever-evolving and sophisticated set of serial burglars.
Evidence of the rise in Jefferson County is anecdotal, since crime data from the Sheriff’s Office are trapped inside a computer system the department implemented last year but could not use because of technical challenges, according to Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Stamper.
The annual caseload report from Washington Courts at www.courts.wa.gov showed 45 counts of burglary filed in Jefferson County Superior Court in 2012, down from the 50 filed in 2011.
Law enforcement in both counties said heroin use is on the rise.
“Clallam County for the last several years has been the highest in the state for overdoses,” said Capt. Ron Cameron, commander of the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team, or OPNET, multi-jurisdictional drug task force.
“And Jefferson County is always right there with them.”
Anglin said methamphetamine is still the main drug connected to burglaries in Jefferson County.
But he added that that could change.
Drugs, like stolen goods, are easily traded across county lines, he said.
“So if heroin is turning up more in Clallam, it could easily be the same people who start using more of it here,” he said.
With the proliferation of online pawn shops, Hernandez said, stolen property is much easier to sell to distant buyers or to one another, often swapping stolen goods for drug money.
Hernandez said burglars are stealing and fencing across county lines.
That, he said, makes it harder for multiple jurisdictions to recognize the tool thief or the mail thief who might be infamous in his home county.
“There’s this connectedness between them, where they’ve developed these networks to fence property, more often than not for drugs,” Hernandez said.
Clallam County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Keegan said heroin users turn to burglary to finance their addiction.
“If you have somebody that’s got a $100-, $200-, $300-a-day controlled-substance habit and they have no steady income, that’s what they’re going to do,” Keegan said.
Cameron said most of the heroin on the Peninsula is black tar, manufactured in Mexico and trafficked into the area through the Puget Sound.
Most of the burglaries so far this year have been in the unincorporated parts of East Clallam County.
According to www.crimereports.com, a website that logs the locations of calls from the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and Port Angeles and Sequim police departments, 17 burglaries have been reported in the unincorporated area around Sequim, mostly south toward Dungeness.
On Jan. 31, Sequim police contacted homeowners on Govan and Matriotti streets to return personal documents found in a car Jefferson County deputies had searched after it was linked to burglaries in that county.
The report logged 10 more in Sequim proper and two in Forks in January.
Port Angeles Police Deputy Chief Brian Smith reported 16 burglaries in the city in January.
In 2012, there were 286 burglaries in Port Angeles, a 15 percent hike from the 248 in 2011.
Clallam County’s 2012 community health assessment showed hardcore drug use has risen sharply over the past decade.
The report, prepared by Beth Lipton, epidemiologist with the Kitsap Public Health District for Clallam County, showed the county had 31 opiate-related hospitalizations per 100,000 citizens, with 20.7 deaths per 100,000, well above the state averages of 21.8 hospitalizations and 10.0 deaths.
Jefferson County had 22.3 hospitalizations per 100,000 and 17.7 deaths.
In 1992, Clallam County had a rate of 3.5 opiate hospitalizations per 100,000.
Access to opium-based prescription pills has decreased with new efforts to collect unused drugs, said Benedict.
Manufacturers, too, have made prescription pills harder to ingest, he said.
Most of those who died or were hospitalized for overdosing on heroin, according to Lipton’s report, were adult males ages 45 to 64.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.