EC Cops focus on ending six month crime spree
A citizen tip which led to the arrest of a suspected burglar in East Carbon took the first steps toward ending the worst string of burglaries seen by city police in more than two decades.
According to EC Chief of Police Sam Leonard, the crime spree, which began in the fall of 2013 is easily the worst rash of theft he has seen in his 23-year-career in law enforcement.
"Drugs are fueling these crimes," said Leonard from his office this week. "We have been dealing with the same group of suspects for sometime and we know they are fencing the property they steal to the same people."
The walls are closing in on this particular ring of thieves and individuals who benefit from their crimes however, as Leonard made an important arrest just last week.
On April 16, the East Carbon Police Department took Leanard Vestal, 26, of Columbia into custody after he was caught with allegedly stolen property on his person by Chief Leonard.
"We received a great tip from a citizen who reportedly saw the assailant leaving an abandoned home with a loaded bag," explained the chief. "It always makes a case more solid when you can catch the individual in direct possession of the stolen material."
Leonard also stated that these particular burglars will pull a heist in the middle of the day, because if they aren't acting suspicious, they look less precarious with a loaded bag during the daytime.
Vestal was taken into custody by Leonard, searched and booked into the Carbon County Jail for Burglary of a Dwelling and felony Possession of Stolen Property.
Since September of 2013, there have been upwards of 25 to 30 burglaries in the East Carbon area which includes Sunnyside, Dragerton and Columbia, according to the East Carbon Police.
Leonard reported the Columbia has been hit especially hard, most likely because of the isolated nature of the properties in that subdivision of town.
When the thefts began in the fall of 2013, a great many of the crimes had to do with scrap metal, such as the stripping of copper wire.
As scrap metal was fetching a high price and could be taken from remote locations by thieves willing to put in the manual labor needed to get the goods.
In November, East Carbon's Sterling Curtis, 33, was arrested and booked for charges including Theft, a second degree felony and Criminal Trespass, a class B misdemeanor for participating just such a crime.
Curtis was caught stealing copper wire from a local business during the early morning hours of Nov. 14, 2013. He plead guilty to amended charges in March and is awaiting sentencing in May.
"We have seen scrap metal thefts slow down," said Leonard. "And I believe that's because all of the easy product has already been taken. Anything else which could be stolen would either require too much work or is too closely guarded to be attractive to thieves," he continued.
As recent burglaries continued, vacant homes became the target of choice. In fact, Leonard stated that nearly 80 percent of the calls and reports taken concerning stolen property have originated from dwellings which are not occupied.
"Storage can be expensive, and people are using their additional properties to store their belongings," explained Chief Leonard. "This is attractive to thieves, because if they take the time to case out the home, they know they are going to be able to look through the victim's property in order to find out what is valuable before leaving."
According to the chief, it has become more and more difficult for police to obtain warrants which would allow public safety officials to search for stolen property in a person's home. This trend has made it nearly impossible for city police to build cases against those who take the stolen goods, often as a trade for narcotics, said Leonard.
The chief is confident, however, that the department is close to making another arrest which will help to shut down the ring of burglars and thieves who are stealing the property in the first place.
"We have put a great deal of investigation into these cases," he said. "As police, we take crimes like burglary very seriously. It is our job to protect the citizens of our community and that includes their property. When people don't feel their property is safe that falls to us."
While the chief is determined to do everything necessary to put those responsible for the rash of burglaries behind bars, there are precautions a citizens can take to ensure the safety of their items. Small things like having a motion light and leaving it turned on at all properties, can make a big difference, said Leonard.
Keep doors and windows locked at all times and make sure to keep valuables out of the line of sight of those on the street, continued the veteran police chief.
"A little diligence can go a long way," he concluded.