Nonetheless, Capt. Scott Bishop said, officers are bothered by every incident they fail to resolve. He outlined tips for residents to improve their home security.
By Matt Skoufalos
Bishop, a 24-year veteran of the department–six of which were spent as a detective–said that although the community doesn’t often deal with violent crime, burglaries represent an invasion of privacy, disturb residents’ feelings of security, and frustrate police because the crimes are “quick and easy to commit” and “the apprehension rate is low.”
“We’re very fortunate that burglaries are our biggest nuisance,” he said.
“[But] it’s a serious invasion of privacy, really.”
What it takes to investigate and resolve such incidents is a lot of case coordination with multiple departments, diligent collection and processing of evidence, and, many times, the aid of residents willing to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
A moving target
When a crime occurs, “information is huge,” Bishop said.
That’s why, for starters, detective work throughout Camden County is coordinated via semi-weekly, inter-agency meetings, phone calls, and e-mail chains.
“There’s 37 municipalities in Camden County,” he said. “Just think if we didn’t communicate.”
The task is complicated geographically because criminals “don’t know boundaries; don’t know jurisdictions,” Bishop said, adding that the majority of burglaries reported in town are not committed by Haddon Township residents.
He blamed the proximity of Camden and Philadelphia and criminals who travel by “bus, foot, [and the]Speedline” for the acts.
“Rarely are people who live in our towns doing these jobs,” Bishop said.
Sometimes even when a burglary suspect is arrested, it might happen farther away, and investigators never catch wind of it, making efforts to resolve the incidents frustrating.
“We’ve solved jobs a year later,” Bishop said.
After a burglary, investigators gather information in a variety of ways, Bishop said, including physical evidence collection, witness interviews, surveillance video; even driving multiple routes to and from the scene to determine the route taken by the perpetrator.
Likewise, the captain said, any number of factors could help clear a case, from “prevention [to] apprehension [to]old-fashioned networking” and evidence-gathering.
“DNA is huge,” Bishop said. “When a package comes from the state lab, it’s like a Christmas present.”
In addition to working open cases, Haddon Township police are always playing the odds. He said that officers are frequently on the lookout for known offenders, and monitor their releases from jail.
“There’s a slew of people we keep tabs on,” he said.
Ask for ID
With the fall season underway and winter approaching, residents are likely to encounter solicitors offering to help maintain their property.
Bishop warns that although many such people may not be ill-intentioned, “almost all” burglary suspects will knock on the door of a residence to see if anyone is at home before attempting entry.
“Gutter cleaning, lost dog, ‘I’m looking for Tracy,’” he said, ticking off a number of common excuses offered.
“Unfortunately for the honest person who wants to go door-to-door to make a buck, we don’t have a way to do that in this town,” Bishop said.
Bishop cautioned that residents who are solicited for any kind of business should ask to see the individual’s police-department-issued photo ID, which is to be clearly displayed on their outer clothing.
“There aren’t many approved because it’s a $500 [annual]permit,” he said.
The only groups exempt from the photo ID policy are nonprofit, religious, and educational organizations, as well as government poll workers, utility employees, and delivery drivers.
But rather than trying to decide if a stranger’s story squares, keeping a vigilant eye on suspicious persons is a more useful way to keep your neighborhood safe, Bishop said.
Precaution as prevention
Police love nothing so much as “a nosy neighbor,” he added. The faster that authorities are notified when something is amiss in the neighborhood, especially at odd hours, the better the likelihood of any potential incident coming to a quick resolution.
“Let people know as quickly as you can,” Bishop said. “Any lead is helpful. We’d rather investigate nothing 99 times to catch the person who’s doing something.”
Haddon Township police are also working to roll out a tip line that will make it easier for residents to contact them. Bishop also suggested signing up with the public safety text alert service, Nixle, to be notified of missing persons or other emergencies.
Residents can also help deter criminals from targeting their homes by keeping a car parked in their driveways, or asking a neighbor to park in the driveway when they’re not at home. Sometimes an alarm sign is sufficient, and sometimes a dog does the job.
“Most burglars don’t like dogs,” Bishop said. “I like alarms, and I like people to turn them on. It starts police to the area.”
Police have also been aided by the county switching its emergency radio communications to an encrypted service in November 2013, Bishop said.
“We had arrested a couple burglars with the app on their phone listening to us,” he said.
‘We solve every one we possibly can’
The ultimate goal of all the work is to give closure to the victims of crime, Bishop said. Stolen property is often unlikely to be recovered because it can be flipped so quickly on the street or in a pawn shop, he said. But returning a sense of peace to a household that has been victimized is critical.
“We solve every one we possibly can solve,” Bishop said. “We always keep [the victims]in mind. The jobs I wasn’t able to solve, they don’t know how hard we wanted to solve them.”
For an overview of burglary incidents in Haddon Township in the last three years, click through our interactive graphic.