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Manchester police chief: All-out war on burglars

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 26. 2012 11:35PM

MANCHESTER - Police Chief David Mara said he is looking to the aldermen and the Legislature for help in a plan to curtail a growing number of burglaries.

Despite a special three-person burglary unit that receives all burglary reports and pawn shop activity - and two street officers assigned to assist - burglaries continue to increase.

'We have to do more,' said Mara.

Two possible solutions are a requested ordinance revision in Manchester that would permit quick access to pawn shop information and use of a nationwide database for stolen property and Senate Bill 286, which would establish a statewide prescription drug database.

Mara hopes the ordinance will be approved in time for the new program to be operating by April 1.

As for the Senate bill, Mara has to wait and see. New Hampshire is one of only two states without some form of a prescription drug registry. Opponents say it will mean a loss of privacy, while police and medical personnel argue it would reduce doctor-shopping for prescription drugs.

Because burglaries were down in the early months of 2011, the year's total was two below that of 2010 - 915 compared to 917. But the city is off to a bad start in 2012, Mara said, with 94 burglaries in January 2012 compared to 40 in January 2011. As of Feb. 20, there were 55 burglaries, compared to 40 for all month in 2011.

'We've declared all-out war,' the chief said.

Drugs and money

Manchester is reaching out to other communities, because burglaries and the selling of stolen goods doesn't stop at the city line. Mara said Detective Lt. Carlo Capano is spearheading that regional effort.

Capano said drugs and the money to buy them are behind the spike in burglaries.

He said everyone in the department is on alert about burglaries, with community policing and patrol officers asking more questions and passing along the information to the burglary unit officers. Officers are keeping an eye on pawn shops and scrap metal yards, with copper thefts 'through the roof.'

'Some say it's the economy,' said Capano, but he respectfully disagrees. 'It's a drug problem. The prescription pills really get a grip on people.'

Mara said the Legislature's sharp cut in the CHINS (Children In Need of Services) program also contributed to the burglary rate.

The cuts left 60 city youths without supervision, despite emotional and behavioral problems, and some of them are ending up in court on burglary and receiving stolen property charges.

Capano said statistics show the vast majority of burglaries are committed between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. In one 36-hour period, he said, there were 12 daytime burglaries, five on the West Side and five on the East Side.

Bicycles, backpacks

Mara said the police department has sent letters to utility companies, transportation companies, FEDEX and UPS. Officers also talked to community groups, urging them to be aware of unusual activity in their neighborhoods.

'We're asking them to keep watch,' said Mara.

Capano said burglars go out and check neighborhoods, knocking on doors and, if no one responds, go around back to try to get in.

'Burglary is sometimes difficult to prove,' said Capano, unless the person is caught in the act, so more people are charged with receiving stolen property and/or theft by deception in connection with selling the items to a pawn shop or other reseller.

Sometimes, police get lucky and are in the right place at the right time.

Earlier this month, a K-9 team had been at a North End house fire and while in the area, the officer spotted a bicycle on the ground near a breezeway. He saw that a house door inside the breezeway had been forced open. As backup arrived, a young woman opened the door. The house had been ransacked and there was a bag of jewelry on the floor by the door. The 22-year-old woman also had a small jewelry box with a ring inside in one of her pockets. She was charged with burglary.

Capano said many burglars travel by bicycle and wear backpacks to carry away their loot, although he noted that in the past few weeks, there has been a huge increase in large TVs being taken.

Capt. Robert Cunha, who heads the department's Legal Division, said courts and prosecutors were notified about the increase in burglaries, often by repeat offenders, and were asked to consider setting significant bail and sentences.

Pawn shop crackdown

Detective Lt. John Patti said the ordinance change would give the department a much better chance of finding stolen items before they are resold or, in the case of jewelry, melted down.

'We're fighting an uphill battle with the (current) ordinances,' said Patti. Pawn shop clerks are supposed to fill out slips with information about an item and turn it in within 72 hours. They can sell or dispose of the item after seven days.

Patti said it's nearly impossible to check items within that time frame. In 2010, there were 25,000 transaction slips covering 63,000 items.

The revised ordinance would require the pawn shops or other resellers to digitally input the information into a web-based program, with photos of both seller and item, and file the information within 24 hours. Items could not be sold for 30 days and gold items could not be cut, to determine value, nor could stones be popped out during the holding period.

The revised ordinance would also require the shops to pay the city $1 per transaction to cover the cost of the database, Patti said.

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