Police say the trend is the same in Londonderry and Salem.
By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — While a recent string of downtown break-ins made headlines last month, police say those incidents are just part of a larger spike in burglaries across town, up 50 percent over last year.
“These burglaries are all over town,” said Derry Police Chief Edward Garone at Tuesday’s council meeting. “There is no one particular area that is necessarily targeted. It’s a crime of opportunity.”
Garone told councilors on Tuesday that Derry police have documented 174 burglaries so far this year, up by more than 50 percent over last year’s 115 burglaries by October, he said.
Of those burglaries, Garone said nearly 95 percent are of town residences.
“We are a bedroom community. One of the benefits of moving to New Hampshire is to have a home in the country with a long driveway and lots of privacy,” he said Tuesday. “These make perfect targets for burglaries.”
Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas said yesterday that the department has information in 49 of those cases that either already has or will likely lead to arrests. On the national scale, Thomas said police usually make arrests in 12 to 13 percent of reported burglaries.
“We have, in my opinion, some of the best investigators around that are working on these cases, and we’re solving more than most others are solving, at least on the national level,” Thomas said.
For the most part, Thomas said burglaries appear to be related to drug activity, where stolen items like electronics or jewelry are either sold for money to buy drugs or traded directly for drugs.
And along with drug activity, Londonderry police Lt. Scott Saunders said difficult economic times can increase the number of burglaries in a given year. Though Saunders said he had no hard numbers available yesterday, Londonderry has also seen a recent increase in burglaries, he said.
“There’s definitely been an uptick in the last year or two,” Saunders said. “It’s hard to say why, but the economy generally drives a lot of these things.”
In Salem this summer, officers saw about four car thefts each week, according to Salem Deputy Police Chief Shawn Patten, and about 20 residential burglaries from July to early September.
In both Salem and Derry, police are responding to more burglaries and other calls for service while officer staffing levels remain the same.
It has been about nine years since Derry added any new police officers to the ranks, Thomas said. The department currently has 57 sworn officers, though several are tied up in training programs or on medical leave, he said.
“It’s a lot harder to keep up with the things that can go on when your population and other considerations grow, unless you add officers, and we haven’t done that,” Thomas said.
But Garone assured councilors Tuesday that he is pleased with efforts of his officers on the street.
“We’re doing the best we can and I think the officers are doing a very good job at this point,” he said.
Several business owners in Derry’s downtown said they were upset they had not been notified by police about several burglaries and attempted burglaries in the area last month. And Councilor Neil Weatherbee said he hoped Garone’s comments on Tuesday would help foster increased communication.
“I think it was good the chief came to the town and said what he had to say last night,” Weatherbee said yesterday. “I think communication is one of the big keys and just acknowledging what’s going on and making sure that there’s good communication between the police and the citizens.”
To help prevent further burglaries, Thomas said, it’s also important for neighbors to communicate with each other.
“Pay attention to your neighborhoods,” Thomas said. “Lock your doors and windows when you leave and have a good rapport with your neighbors so they’re watching your property for you when you’re not around and you’re doing the same for them.”
And when in doubt, Thomas said to call police to report any suspicious behavior.
“We’d rather be called and not be needed, than be needed and not be called,” he said.