EVERETT — The message on the Everett Police Department whiteboard was short and simple: “Chop wood.”
The words — a reference to getting out and working hard — served as a rallying cry among members of the BRT, an acronym for Everett’s newly formed Burglary Reduction Team. The detectives and patrol officers are tasked with reducing property crimes in a city of 103,000.
Since it began on Sept. 11, the team has made 320 arrests. Many collars were connected directly to thefts, burglaries and those wheeling and dealing in stolen goods. Others, including several drug arrests, were believed to be indirectly related.
“Our goal isn’t to go for the numbers,” said Sgt. Dan Boardley, who directs the squad. “It’s the behavior. We want the crooks to be very uncomfortable on the streets.”
Within two weeks of the team’s formation, word began trickling back from the Snohomish County Jail that inmates were warning one another. They noticed more Everett police officers out and about hunting down thieves.
On its first day, it took the team one hour and 13 minutes to make its first three arrests on property-crime related warrants. First on the list was Ryan W. Frey, who had been wanted for a year on probation violations after being convicted as a juvenile for setting the fire that burned down Emory’s restaurant at Silver Lake in 2009. When the team caught up with him, he was hanging out with other young men engaged in thefts.
In its first month, the team made 102 arrests, recovered six stolen firearms, seized $20,000 in cash and recovered more than $17,000 in personal property. It also confiscated a large quantity of illegal street drugs.
It’s all part of an age-old cycle: Addicts steal to feed their habits.
The officers spend parts of their shifts on the computer and in reviewing reports looking for leads on suspects and the places where they’re likely to be found.
Their schedules vary to keep the bad guys guessing. So do the number of officers on the team, which has fluctuated between four and eight. The team is freed from responding to 911 calls, which allows them to focus their energies on property crimes.
Jim Massingale is an arson investigator who’s also part of the burglary reduction team.
On a dark afternoon in late November, the veteran detective zigzagged through side streets and thoroughfares from north to south Everett, getting in and out of his patrol car roughly a dozen times to talk with people.
Along the way, he met a man who appeared to be loitering near a home, but turned out to be looking to rent a garage. There was another man carrying a bag of pie crusts and a towel he had rummaged out of garbage containers.
In central Everett, Massingale stopped in the rain to chat with a young woman he’d spotted minutes before leaving a house where thieves are known to hang out. From their conversation, the detective confirmed the street name of a suspect police wanted to know more about.
Massingale drove through hotel and motel parking lots, punching license plate numbers into his patrol car computer for potential warrants.
“It’s kind of like you are checking the trap line,” he said.
He provided what amounted to a drive-by tour of homes where thieves have been known to store their wares.
Some now stood empty. One once was packed with people. They were evicted after multiple arrests.
Massingale stopped by another home off Seventh Avenue. In the muddy back yard he found a man with a thick, dark beard and a blue bandana atop his head. The man had served time in prison for assault. He was making arrangements to leave the next morning, he said. The house — once a haven for thieves — had been trashed. He was the last to leave.
Massingale then drove into an upscale block of two-story homes.
He nodded toward one well-maintained house.
“Just to drive by, you wouldn’t know it,” he said. “A lot of stolen property comes through this place.”
The burglary reduction team relies heavily on patrol officers.
“Patrol is our best avenue, our best intel source, into new locations to focus our resources on,” Massingale said.
Also useful is ongoing data collection and crime analysis that helps identify hotspots. “Intelligence-based policing” in police parlance.
The plan is that the burglary reduction team will be absorbed next spring by the department’s anti-crime team, which will keep the same mission and commitment to reducing property crimes.
Boardley, the sergeant directing the burglary reduction team, said communication and knowledge across the department have been critical.
“We know we aren’t going to go out and catch a bunch of burglaries in progress. That will happen only a few times in your career,” he said. “We want to ID people involved in property crimes.”
Those tips are followed up and developed. Suspects are identified; homes are monitored. Arrests are made.
“They’re not the glamorous cases,” Boardley said. “They’re not the high-profile cases. They are the ones affecting quality of life.”
The rewards sometimes come in anecdotes.
Boardley recently learned of one prolific drug dealer who told a friend he was moving out of city limits for fear of getting caught.
That vignette brings a smile to the sergeant’s face.
“We don’t want them to believe they can establish roots in Everett,” he said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org.