Police Expand Night Patrols to Deal with Burglary Problem
Fair Lawn's burglary rate has more than doubled since 2009, prompting the borough's police department to take action.
Fair Lawn’s recent surge in burglaries has pushed the police department to take concerted action in an attempt to curb the frequency of break-ins.
Starting last weekend, the department began deploying additional patrolmen overnight in recently affected areas.
"As the result of the increased commercial burglaries occurring over the midnight hours, we took a proactive initiative and put some plainclothes officers and plainclothes detectives out overnight with the direct mission of just looking for nothing else but suspicious activity related to burglaries," Detective Lt. Michael Uttel said. "Most were occurring over the weekend, so that’s when we directed our manpower."
Uttel said that because police have been handling more commercial than residential burglaries this year, the department's focus has turned more toward preventing commercial jobs, which typically are committed overnight.
Home burglaries, on the other hand, occur more frequently during the day when residents leave their homes for work.
Even with added patrol, Uttel acknowledged that solving any type of burglary is hit-or-miss. Although detectives have been fortunate to clear a number of recent home burglaries, oftentimes, solving a break-in hinges on an eyewitness tip from a vigilant neighbor or commercial surveillance footage.
"Burglaries are one of the more difficult crimes to solve," Uttel said. "A lot of times there's no physical evidence, no witnesses and no leads. We got lucky on lot of these recent burglaries with alert residents or video surveillance equipment."
Even when police have been successful apprehendinging recent burglary suspects, Uttel said it's tough to keep them behind bars.
"The two guys we arrested on Elaine Terrace both posted bond and are out already," he said. "It’s a revolving door."
After decreasing steadily from 2002 to 2009, Fair Lawn’s burglary rate has spiked dramatically over the past couple years.
By the end of 2011, annual burglaries had reached a nine-year high, more than doubling since their decade-low count in 2009. Through the first three months of 2012, burglaries are up another 50 percent over last year’s rate.
Explanations for the increase in burglaries provided by law enforcement officials have ranged from the depressed economy to the decrease in police staffing.
And Uttel said Fair Lawn is not alone in seeing its burglary rate rise.
"There's been a drastic increase in both [commercial and home burglaries] throughout Bergen County," he said. "Now's just a perfect storm of the economy and the lack of police manpower."
Uttel said he believes Fair Lawn's recent uptick in overnight commercial burglaries is the result of burglars seeking the path of least resistance.
"Burglaries are normally non-confrontational," he said. "I think that it's more opportunistic for the bad guy."
Uttel said he suspects burglars are targeting commercial establishments because many lack alarm or security systems, are unoccupied overnight and are more likely to be located in isolated areas where the chances of being spotted are reduced.
While many of last year’s burglaries were concentrated on the southern and western borders of town, Detective Peter Yuskaitis said burglars have historically struck all over Fair Lawn.
“We’ve done jobs in the middle of town,” he said. “There’s no specific target point.”
Yuskaitis said the burglary suspects they’ve apprehended are a mix of career burglars and others without a criminal history.
Although he’s only worked in the detective bureau for a couple years, he said he’s recently noticed an increase in the percentage of first-time burglars.
“In the past, there were probably more career burglars,” he said. “But with the economy, it’s out of desperation now, a lot of it.”
Uttel said the breakdown of career burglars to first-timers in town has historically been about 60-40 in favor of career burglars.
To minimize the chance your home or business is burglarized, police recommend installing an alarm system, which they said usually scares burglars and minimizes the problem even if one does make entry.