Monroe police team with deputy to investigate and arrest prolific criminals

MONROE — Faced with a half-dozen chain saws, the Monroe man tried to remember which one he bought legitimately.

The saws were piled up in his back yard alongside lawn mowers, pressure washers and leaf blowers. The police asked how he ended up with so many.

One chain saw was a gift fro

m his uncle, he said. Another belonged to a sibling. By the third or fourth, he was scratching his head. He couldn’t recall.

The man, 33, was arrested Tuesday in connection with a suspected stolen property ring that’s been operating in and around Monroe. Two other men believed to be involved were arrested last week.

The ring is being investigated by a new specialty police unit in east Snohomish County. The crooks were crossing city limits, and now, the cops are, too.

The Sky Valley Enforcement Team was developed to target crime in Monroe and the surrounding areas, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said. The team includes a Monroe sergeant, two Monroe officers and a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy.

Partnering with the sheriff’s office made sense, Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer said.

“The sheriff’s department and the Monroe Police Department were chasing the same crooks,” he said.

Instead of responding to 911 calls, the team builds strategies to go after prolific criminals, Deputy Chief Cherie Harris said.

Thieves steal on one side of the city line and sell the loot for money or drugs on the other, she said. Those cases needed more investigation than a sole police report.

Harris came up with the idea for a proactive unit last winter. The team got to work in June.

The man with the chain saws was the third arrest in the team’s latest case.

Police estimate the suspected burglars have hit about 50 homes in the past few months. They pawed through unlocked sheds and garages, making off with lawn-care equipment and power tools. One allegedly already confessed to about a dozen break-ins, police said.

On Tuesday afternoon, police were in the Monroe man’s modest but well cared for back yard. The lawn was freshly mowed. Small pink bicycles lined the fence. Two toy dogs kept watch.

But inside the shed, there were stacks of goods — the kind that few people keep in bulk: At least eight ice chests; a tangled pile of car stereo faceplates; the chain saw collection.

“It’s a cheap way for them to get expensive tools,” one officer explained.

As the cops sorted the goods and wrote down serial numbers, they kept remembering recent cases. A stolen bike. A missing scooter. They shuffled through the stack of burglary reports they brought along, looking for matches. Neighbors peered over from their porches and lawns.

Police asked the man to identify his property.

“You can just take everything,” he said.

Once the back yard was searched, the wait began.

The evidence, including statements from the man and his family, was taken back to the station. An officer left to prepare a search warrant application for the garage. A judge gave permission, but it took a few hours.

The man and his family sat in lawn chairs in the driveway, laughing and talking.

The warrant arrived. The garage was opened. Within seconds, the officers held up two shotguns. Soft-shell cases with sheepskin liners fell to the floor. One garage shelf was heaped with car stereo pieces. The officers checked under hats, beneath posters and in the fridge.

The search also turned up two handguns.

The guns alone provided enough probable cause for an arrest because nobody in the home could legally possess a firearm. By Wednesday, at least one of the guns had been confirmed stolen, Willis said.

The day’s warrants provided some fresh leads. The scope of the investigation grew.

In a small town like Monroe, the same rotation of criminals tend to cause most of the problems.

That’s what team members talked about as they loaded up oily lawn mowers and dented tool kits.

At the heart of it, people are being victimized. Their property is being tromped through and pilfered.

Each new case creates another trail of crimes, often involving drugs and guns. The team tries to see the big picture, Willis said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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