Archive for Sunday, August 4, 2013

Police break string of high-dollar burglaries, continue to investigate

August 4, 2013


Lawrence crime, fire, courts coverage
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Leslie Carper, of Lawrence, checks on a storage unit at A1 Self Storage, 1717 W. 31st Street, which was ransacked by thieves in May. Three people arrested Wednesday are facing charges in a case that police say links this burglary with more than a dozen others this year.

Leslie Carper, of Lawrence, checks on a storage unit at A1 Self Storage, 1717 W. 31st Street, which was ransacked by thieves in May. Three people arrested Wednesday are facing charges in a case that police say links this burglary with more than a dozen others this year.

On May 4, a Lawrence woman found her rented storage unit ransacked, with thousands of dollars worth of musical instruments and recording equipment missing.

Three days later, a resident in the 2400 block of Alabama reported a Gary Fisher mountain bike stolen. The next week, in the 2100 block of Kasold Drive, a man reported that he was assaulted by a burglar returning to steal from him for a second time.

These kinds of crimes happen every day in Lawrence, and many remain unsolved. Between 500 and 600 burglaries are reported here each year, and many more go unreported because residents don't believe the offenders will ever be caught or the property returned. In June, North Lawrence residents became so fed up with a local theft problem that they said they would turn to state legislators for help.

But last week, the Lawrence Police Department said it had solved at least 20 local burglary cases, arresting three people suspected in a string of meth-fueled burglaries and thefts dating back to the beginning of the year. The arrests came after a three-month investigation by two patrol officers. One of the officers broke the case while responding to an otherwise unremarkable domestic disturbance, said Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman.

Police on Wednesday arrested two men and a woman who each now face more than a dozen charges in connection with burglaries in April in May. Most notably, they are charged in several cases in which suspects allegedly backed rented moving trucks up to storage units at A1 Self Storage, 1717 W. 31st St., and emptied them after cutting the locks. One suspect is facing a single charge of methamphetamine possession. McKinley said more arrests and charges were possible as the investigation continues.

Storage problems

The case was unusual, McKinley said, in part because of the amount of property involved: an estimated $77,000 in stolen furniture, electronics, sports memorabilia and other assorted property. Both the alleged thieves and the police at times had trouble finding space to store it, McKinley said.

During the investigation, police found that thieves had looted so much property from storage units and residences that they ended up renting storage units of their own to hold the ill-gotten goods, McKinley said.

And the police retrieved such a large quantity of stolen goods that they had nowhere to keep it, resorting at one point to the unprecedented step of storing it in rented moving trucks parked outside the police station. McKinley said the case illustrated the cost of the thieving that goes on in Lawrence every day.

“If you do things little by little, it sometimes seems insignificant,” he said. “But when you piece it all together, you say ‘these people have been involved in a spree here.’”

The clue that opened up the investigation came on May 17, when Officer Jamie Emerson spotted a checkbook that did not seem to belong in the home where the officer had responded to a domestic disturbance. As it turned out, the checkbook had been reported stolen from a storage unit belonging to Leslie Carper, 52, of Lawrence.

Carper had reported on May 4 that someone had ransacked her storage unit, making off with thousands of dollars in recording equipment and musical instruments left behind by her late ex-husband.

A local musician, he had left behind a drum set, vintage rock and roll posters from the 1970s, speakers, recording equipment and a large public-address system. Carper intended some of the things eventually to go to her daughter, and assumed the equipment was safe. An employee at the storage company called to ask if Carper had moved her things out of the unit, she said. Carper told the employee "no," and went over to the storage unit to check it.

“When I opened the door, it was gone,” Carper said. “It was big enough to park a car in, and it was empty. There was a whole studio’s worth of equipment.” The thieves had left behind some empty boxes and a few items that were too heavy to carry, Carper said, but carried away many of the valuables.

The officer who responded noted that the thieves had cut the padlock securing the door. A1 Self Storage, which declined to comment on the burglaries, had kept security cameras on the premises for years, but they were no help. They were reported stolen, too.

Besides Carper, other residents were experiencing very similar burglaries around the same time, including several at the same self-storage facility. As the police officer took a report from Carper, employees also checked the storage unit next to it because the lock appeared to be cut. They opened the door to look, and all appeared to be normal.

But when the man renting the unit went to check on it a few days later, “I opened it up, and it was empty,” said Ronald Rowland, 73.

He had rented the unit to hold household items and sports memorabilia he’d collected over decades at his home in Lawrence as he and his wife moved into an apartment. It was all gone: baseballs autographed by Bob Feller and by Albert Pujols, “hundreds of thousands” of baseball cards, dozens of Kansas University basketball souvenirs signed by players over the years, a $4,000 set of china and a vast collection of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” toys Rowlands had collected with his son years ago.

“It’s just a lost feeling,” Rowlands said. “Like, what the heck happened? It’s hard to replace it.”

The officers returned to where they had found the checkbook and started asking questions, which led to more interviews with people who police believed were involved with drug-related crimes.

A crime wave linked to meth

While police are reluctant to name individuals as alleged drug users, McKinley said, the patrol officers who investigated the case believed many of the thefts were in some way driven by methamphetamine, McKinley said.

The case appeared to be just what Officer Shannon Riggs, a veteran of the Lawrence Police Department’s drug enforcement unit, predicted three months ago. He told the Journal-World then that he had seen signs that meth, and the crime that goes with it, were on the rise in Lawrence. Brazen property crimes, committed in repetitive fashion, like a group of thieves returning to the same storage units night after night, were exactly what he expected to see, after watching meth ravage southeast Kansas counties where he worked a decade ago.

When the officers decided they had enough evidence, they sought out and arrested Jacob P. Paine, 33, Cori D. Nehrbass, 33, and Travis M. Darrow, 33, all of Lawrence. Two of the three suspects arrested Wednesday appeared in Douglas County District Court Thursday, charged with multiple felony counts of burglary, theft and other charges. A third has yet to appear in court.

Douglas County prosecutors charged Paine with 10 felony counts, including aggravated burglary, burglary, theft and possession of methamphetamine, along with misdemeanor counts of theft and criminal damage.

Nehrbass, who has a criminal record in Douglas County dating back to 2006 that includes convictions for drug possession and burglary, is facing 12 similar felony counts. Darrow was also arrested on suspicion of multiple thefts and burglaries, and will appear in court to face charges on Aug. 27. Darrow spent time in Kansas prisons after being convicted of theft and drug possession last year.

Paine and Darrow were in Douglas County Jail Friday, with bond set at $30,000. Darrow posted a $50,000 bond Wednesday and was released, pending his first appearance on Aug. 27. Court-appointed attorneys representing the defendants in the case could not be reached for comment.

In all, police said they solved six burglaries of storage units at A1 Self Storage, several thefts and break-ins scattered throughout town, and series of burglaries of storage units at an apartment complex in the 2100 block of Kasold Drive in which one man was assaulted.

The cost

McKinley said he gave credit to the patrol officers who managed to link several otherwise routine cases together through painstaking investigation. However, he said, police have also made difficult choices in the past to make it possible. “This is the result,” McKinley said. "But it comes at a cost."

Because property crimes are investigated by the patrol officers — Lawrence has detectives only for person felonies such as robbery and homicide — investigations like this one happen between urgent calls from injury accidents, domestic violence and bar brawls. The department long ago pulled some officers from school resource positions and traffic duty to give officers on patrol more time to follow up on cases.

In this case, many of the victims had some, but not all, of their property returned to them. It is typical, McKinley said, for items like expensive tools and copper wire to disappear quickly after a theft.

Rowland recovered some speakers, but his sports memorabilia remained missing. Carper received some of her mother’s belongings and a china tea set, but the musical equipment her late ex-husband had left behind for their daughter still is gone, which continues to upset her.

"These people need to know, it's not just property," Carper said. "It's not just things, or the five dollars you're going to get. This is people's lives, this was my daughter's inheritance."

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jack22 4 years, 7 months ago

It's hard to believe these guys stole so much gear they had to rent their own storage lockers. Even the cameras at the storage facility were stolen. I hope the judge takes all of this into account and these meth heads are put away for a very long time. Good work LPD.

57chevy 4 years, 7 months ago

Wow. I guess analysis has gone out of the news. My high school newspaper would have at least analyzed whether there was any related issues might pertain to this article. Crime is growing out of control. Entire neighborhoods are up in arms and the city council is oblivious. The county attorney is unconcerned. The police department admits that, despite the fact that property crime is rapidly becoming the biggest crime problem in Lawrence, they still feel that school programs and traffic enforcement take priority (That is where they pulled officers from to solve the crimes mentioned). I wonder what it will take for local government, at any level, to respond to this rapidly growing threat? A few easy fixes: We could fire our county attorney at the next election. We could try and find someone to run for the city council that is more concerned about taking care of current taxpayer, rather than wooing new ones. We could try and find a police chief who thinks officers on the street on foot, on a bicycle, not necessarily in a $50,000 sound-proof car are more important than a new building or an armored car. Finally, we could start a newspaper that exposes government inadequacies to initiate debate rather than regurgitating government news releases. I have lived in several other college towns and am amazed at the willingness of Lawrence to embrace mediocrity. Really. We could do better

Food_for_Thought 4 years, 7 months ago

You post as if you have a lot of experience in the law enforcement field. Do you have experience in law enforcement?

Food_for_Thought 4 years, 7 months ago

BTW, I think you misread the article. The article said that it had to pull from "school resource positions and traffic duty", not because that was where the chief had officers at; if you really followed the activities of your local police department, you'd know that a year or so ago, Lawrence PD disbanded their traffic unit and absorbed a number of school resource positions to better staff officers on the street (who investigate and respond to crimes). You have it completely backward and need to do your research before you make yourself look like a fool. BTW, I would imagine officers in a "$50,000 sound-proof car" could hear just fine by cracking those "high-tech glass panes"...I think they're called, "windows". Also, the armored car was acquired by a federal grant, so I'm not sure as to where you are justifying your "complaint" about it here. You'd think that if you've lived in "several college towns" that you'd have earned some form of higher education...and perhaps learned that it is wiser to do some research, know your topic, and think before you speak.

tomatogrower 4 years, 7 months ago

Let's not make any easy deals with these people. Make sure they go to prison.

50YearResident 4 years, 7 months ago

Why would there not be any recorded film left after the cameras were stolen?

LogicMan 4 years, 7 months ago

Film has mostly gone the way of the buggy whip. The cameras would be electronic, and the central recording device likely was not taken from the office or off site. So the pictures should still be somewhere, unless delted or the cameras weren't working. Or were fake.

parrothead8 4 years, 7 months ago

Maybe they figured out where the cameras were and stole them first.

LogicMan 4 years, 7 months ago

Would one or more low-cost substations. distributed around town in high-need areas, do instead?

Kyle Chandler 4 years, 7 months ago

More Police is the answer for sure, as we all know, Police are constantly arriving during a crime to prevent it. Rarely do they show up after to investigate because they dont have to, they are that good.

waitjustaminute 4 years, 7 months ago

Sounds like that old 57chevy isn't hittin on all cylinders. Just sayin.

James Minor 4 years, 7 months ago

A new central police station may not meet the needs of a growing Lawrence. Currently, the LPD has two locations. Repair/upgrades to the existing ones and a smaller new one in another location will provide regional support, similar to precincts in larger metropolitan areas.

Norm Jennings 4 years, 7 months ago

hmmm....strange how none of the frequent lamenters of social "over-criminalization" of drug use have posted here? I'll admit that pot may be over-criminalized, at least I'll listen to the argument.

On the other hand, the argument that we lock-up too high a percentage of our population so far fails to alarm me. I've been proud to know plenty of under-educated and quite poor people who were honest and trustworthy.

Sometimes wonder if when times are bad the less honest crowd has more difficulty "blending-in" with an illusion of "playing straight," and consequently we see a corresponding rise in crime rates.

alexis_johnson 4 years, 7 months ago

I would like to commend Officer Emerson for a job well done!! This was just good ol' solid police work!! A couple of things in the article surprised me about the police department...First, I did not realize the patrol officers were responsible for investigating all of the reported property crimes in the city (according to the KBI stats, 2012 numbers were 4,018 property crimes) as well as investigating the domestic calls, car accidents, drug calls, check on this, check on that...etc. which I think the numbers were around 100,000 calls for service last year.

McKinley said, "property crimes are investigated by the patrol officers — Lawrence has detectives only for person felonies such as robbery and homicide — investigations like this one happen between urgent calls from injury accidents, domestic violence and bar brawls." A quick check of the KBI stats showed Lawrence had zero homicides and 55 rapes. If LPD has 20+ detectives, that equals out to approximately 2.75 cases per detective each year...surely I am missing something here. And I would assume most of the rapes are reported to the police after the detectives go home at 5 or 6pm. If the patrol officers are staffed at 75 officers, that equals out to 53.68 cases per officer each year and 1,333 calls for service!!! Help me out here, but the numbers are crazily offset. Why not deploy the 20+ detectives to the street and they can indulge in the lion share of police work also.

Second thing that surprised me was the fact the police department did not have the adequate space to house the recovered stolen property and they had to rent Ryder trucks. As a taxpayer, this is embarrassing!!! If we can not support such a critical function of our city services with adequate work space and storage space, then we sure as heck dont need a new $20+ million dollar recreation center!!! It is time our city commissioners and city manager get their priorities straight and fund critical functions such as police, fire, water, and sanitation.

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