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Thefts, burglaries increased in 2004 - Property crime up, but police say Island is still safe
By Wendy Giroux
Property crimes went up dramatically from 2003 to 2004, but serious crimes against people remained low.
The biggest increase has been in burglaries and thefts -- including car prowls, which Director of Public Safety Ron Elsoe estimated represent 75 to 80 percent of the total thefts.
``I don't feel like this is unique to Mercer Island,'' Elsoe said, noting that the whole region has seen an upswing in property crimes.
Burglaries reported increased about 80 percent, from 57 to 103. Thefts went up about 69 percent, from 269 to 456.
``I don't think this will be a blip. I think this will continue through the foreseeable future,'' he said. ``This has been fairly consistent for a whole year now. We're hoping 2005 will be a better year for us.''
Police have tried to get crime prevention messages out to residents through city mailings and newspaper articles, but say they still need citizens to do more.
``If I could do one thing to get people to help prevent these crimes, I would have them secure their valuables, secure their cars and homes and get locking mailboxes,'' Elsoe said.
``People really need to call us anytime they hear or see something suspicious,'' he added.
Oftentimes citizens hear noises such as car doors slamming in the middle of the night but don't get up to look out the window or call police. In the morning, they discover all the cars on the street have been prowled.
``They need to know it's not a burden for us to respond,'' Cmdr. Ed Holmes said. ``We actually like to get those reports.''
Islanders also reported more mail thefts, fraud and forgery last year -- all crimes that go hand in hand with identity theft.
Many types of property crimes have been linked to groups of drug users who work neighborhoods throughout the region to support their habits.
Malicious mischief reports, such as broken windows and spray-painted buildings, went up 150 percent, from 92 to 230, with many of the crimes attributed to kids.
``It's just a lack of respect for other people's property,'' Elsoe said.
The whole community needs to help out by teaching kids about respect, he said.
Despite the increase in property crimes, police emphasize that the Island is still a safe place.
``These statistics shouldn't be anything to panic about,'' Elsoe said. ``The crimes against persons fortunately have stayed at fairly low levels.''
Police are still adjusting to the change in dispatching.
In November, Mercer Island's dispatch center closed and handed the reins over to Kirkland and Bellevue centers, which now provide the services under contract.
More changes are to come for this year. In March, the department will get six replacement police cars; in April or May, those cars will be outfitted with mobile computers. The new system will allow police to instantly check license plate numbers, driver's records and other data on their own, rather than asking dispatchers to do it for them.
``I think it will be an effective tool for our officers as they go out in the community,'' Elsoe said.
Crimes reported to Mercer Island Police