Many go unreported
EVERYONE on the island has a burglary tale to tell, whether it involves them or someone they know, and most homeowners now are bothered and scared of the rise in burglaries.
To make matters worse, only half of the incidents are being reported, and burglary statistics are not updated.
Guam Police Department acting Public Information Officer Lt. Art Paulino told Variety that the number of burglary incidents reported to police account for only about half of the actual number of burglaries.
In Barrigada alone, there were 70 cases listed by Guam Crime Stoppers in a span of three months, but that number does not include the village's recent burglary victims who did not report their incident to authorities.
In an interview with Variety, Paulino said there are several reasons why some burglary cases are not reported, one of which is apathy.
“People don’t report burglary because some people, when they come home, many of them do not realize that they were burglarized. I know of cases where the suspects went into a home several times, and the owners only knew about it after the third time when the thieves took their vehicle,” Paulino said.
Paulino also said some burglary cases are not reported because they were perpetrated by relatives or acquaintances of the victim.
“Those 'perfectly-done' burglaries – where there is no mess or evidence of forced entry – are usually perpetrated by acquaintances of the victim who know the ins and outs of the premises and are familiar with the victim’s schedule pattern,” Paulino said.
Many burglaries are also not reported due to fear of retaliation, especially if the perpetrators are able to escape.
A longtime Barrigada resident who was victimized by burglars twice in recent weeks said he had never seen anything like the recent string of crimes in his neighborhood.
The man, who didn’t want his identity revealed, said he needs to protect his family from thieves who might come back to retaliate against his minor children.
The police is encouraging the public to report crimes, especially burglaries.
“If there’s a lot of public attention, the criminals will not go to the area where there’s a heightened alert. ... Heightened alerts will dissuade the burglars and will make them think twice before committing a crime. If there’s not enough awareness, homeowners can become complacent and have a false sense of security,” Paulino said.
The Crime Stoppers program alerts and informs the public about criminals through the media, but from the perspective of GPD’s Criminal Investigations Division, sometimes they need to hold back the public release of information so as not to alert the criminal and so GPD can track the suspects faster.
He added that another reason why some burglary cases are not released to the public, especially if an arrest has been made, is because the police have to turn the case over to the prosecutors.
“As part of the judicial system, we work hand-in-hand with the [Attorney General's] Office and information released can be used by the defense attorney, which can affect the prosecution of a criminal,” Paulino explained.
Although GPD recognizes the need to heighten awareness about burglary cases, Paulino admits burglary is not at the top of their priority list.
“Crime against person is always the priority rather than crime against property,” Paulino said.
“Responding to burglary crime scenes has always been an extremely difficult job and at least needs two policemen to process a house that had been victimized. If there is a police call about a daytime burglary and another police call about a fight just happening, we need to carefully weigh the situation. If the burglary happened at day time, there is a 70 percent chance that the home was unoccupied, so we have to respond first to a fight that might turn into an assault to a person,” Paulino said.
Another challenge in processing burglary cases is the preservation of evidence.
“The island has extreme humidity that prevents the preservation of DNA. And the household traffic and movement makes it difficult to preserve evidence or to at least trace the fingerprints of perpetrators,” Paulino said.
Burglary victims, however, believe the police should take burglary cases more seriously.
Xiu Yan Li Wang lost her iPad during a second burglary incident that occurred in her Barrigada house. Using a special app, she said she was able to track down her iPad to a nearby apartment complex. She said she called the police but nobody came to check out the apartment. The next day, the tracking application indicated that her iPad had already been moved to Agana Heights.
A family in Yigo was able to recover a piece of stolen clothing but when they told the police about it, no one came down to check the piece of evidence.
During the same incident, when police were asked why it took them almost more than two hours to respond, they told the victims that they need to prioritize other police reports.
“They took a loud speaker, a laptop and camera, and a cellphone. These are things that can be replaced, but those burglars also took away my peace of mind. We can no longer enjoy a good sleep at night. We are in an environment where people have been inside, uninvited. We don’t feel safe anymore,” another burglary victim said.
The victim said she was forced to install an alarm system which is an additional household expense. However, alarm systems can have flaws – if burglars smash their way through sliding-glass doors, a door-frame alarm will not necessarily go off.
One Barrigada resident said the current law needs to be updated and should be made more applicable to the current scenario.
“We need our lawmakers to come out with stricter penalties and punish the burglars with a 10-year imprisonment for first offense. You’ll see, nobody would dare to do it again. We have to stop babying these criminals. They cannot use the reason that the jail is overcrowded – I don’t buy that. The authorities need to do their job to keep criminals in jail. Why do the taxpayers need to suffer just because of the overcrowded jails?” he said.
The recent rash of burglaries in their village has made Barrigada residents closer to each other.
The residents have created a Barrigada Neighborhood Watch, with a number of committees that meet regularly to help fight crime.
According to Barrigada Mango Tree Committee Coordinator James Marques, the last meeting was held June 27, with Capt. Steve Ignacio announcing the capture of a suspect involved in numerous burglaries in the neighborhood.
Marques said GPD has also formed a special task force to track down a suspect in the Talavera burglary on Lizama Street.
The Mango committee, headed by block leader Tony Lizama, has been helping residents who cannot maintain their yard – which otherwise would consequently provide burglars with potential hiding places such as overgrown shrubs and trees.
Marques said they have visited another burglary victim residing in the same area.
“We noticed her home was hidden by heavy vegetation. As part of our crime prevention efforts, we offered to clear her yard at no cost. The committee, with the help of volunteers, will accomplish this soon,” Marques said.
“There is a need to look out for each other. Burglars prowl the streets targeting vulnerable houses. These opportunists will attack a property in an instant – they climb through an open window and make off with whatever valuables they can grab,” Lizama said.
During a recent meeting, the committee members listed a number of measures that residents can adopt to prevent and discourage burglars from victimizing the neighborhood.
The following steps are advised:
- Install a burglar alarm. When residents go to bed at night, they can activate the zones that they don’t sleep in.
- Install lights with timer for indoors and outside. A well-lit vicinity turns off creepy and sneaky individuals.
- Install CCTV or subscribe to a home monitoring device where residents can track their home surroundings through an iPad or iPhone.
- Get a dog – a loud dog is always a reliable deterrent.
- Always close windows, including bathroom windows, especially at night and when leaving the house.
- Keep shrubbery at a minimal level.
- Take note of license plates of strange cars.
- Take pictures of jewelries for future use as evidence.
- Subscribe to an application that tracks down electronics such as smartphones, iPads, tablets, and computers.
- If going out of town, be sure to designate someone to pick up the mail – do not leave the impression that the house has been empty for a long period of time.
- Keep car keys away from windows, entrances, or places that are easy to access.
- Know your neighbors and exchange contact numbers.