Police join forces to fight property crime

MARYSVILLE — It took about an hour before Sgt. James Maples had what he describes as his first “Aha” moment.

It was the morning of Jan. 6. The veteran Marysville police officer was watching five detectives from three different agencies on their first morning working together.

They were starting from scratch, but it didn’t take long before they were bandying about suspect names and descriptions of different property crimes within their boundaries. They compared notes about MOs and suspicions about people crossing into different jurisdictions to plunder homes and vehicles.

“It was eye opening,” Maples said.

Less than three weeks later, the new team has returned a prized possession stolen from a 10-year-old girl, a military commendation taken from a veteran and two pigs poached from an Arlington area farm.

Arrests have been made and investigations are building.

Maples has high hopes for the squad that, for now, is a one-year pilot project and a potential model for similar police teams in other parts of the county.

The team has no fancy title. It’s simply known at the Property Crimes Unit and includes detectives from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Marysville and Lake Stevens police departments. Plans also include a crime analyst.

Their beat is a large swath of north Snohomish County that is home to about a quarter of a million people. It includes the Stillaguamish Tribe Reservation, but not the Tulalip Indian Reservation or city of Arlington.

“Our hope is to pull more players in as time goes by,” Maples said.

They have their marching orders. A major focus is pooling their collective knowledge to catch serial burglars and thieves. In some cases, they will pursue fraud cases if they begin with a break-in.

“It allows us to take our resources to build a case against the individuals who have become habitual criminals,” Maples said. “We are trying to chase after people who have been (identified) as the worst of the worst.”

Maples said each department worked hard to solve crimes before they joined forces, but “what we don’t know is what we don’t know.” By bringing the detectives together in the same room, they can compare notes and fill in some of those blanks in their investigations.

Besides the career criminals, the property crimes unit hopes to track down new addicts who’ve just begun resorting to property crimes to feed their drug habits. The idea is to get them help while holding them accountable.

So much of property crimes these days can be traced to an upsurge in heroin use, Maples said.

The detectives also plan to work closely with patrol officers and, at times, assist at crimes scenes while cases are unfolding. In such cases, the patrol officers could be tracking a suspect while the detectives gather evidence, talk to witnesses and get an early start on their investigations.

The unit won’t be assigned every property crime report, Maples said. It must be selective to be effective.

The team also hopes to cut into the crime rate by working with people on ways to protect their homes and their neighborhoods. They want to encourage people to report things that seem suspicious near where they live.

“They can be our best front-line defense,” he said.

To some degree, the detectives might enlist help from victims. That could entail having people monitor popular websites, such as craigslist and eBay, to search for their stolen items before handing their findings off to the detectives to pursue.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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