An analysis of data from cities found about a 16 percent drop, as more steps were taken to tackle the problem.
Thieves targeting unlocked homes and vehicles were largely to blame for a spike in burglaries in Washington County in recent years, but newly released crime figures show the number of break-ins fell in most communities in 2013, police officials across the county said.
In Stillwater, where burglaries dropped from 86 in 2012 to 53 in 2013, police have taken to putting more uniformed and plainclothes officers in areas that had been previously targeted by burglars and “car prowlers,” a department spokesman said Tuesday.
The heightened police presence has helped thwart opportunistic thieves who skulked around residential neighborhoods, hoping “they could see through a kitchen window or something, and they could see a purse or iPad,” said Stillwater Police Sgt. Jeff Stender. Another factor in the drop, he said, was that people simply began locking their doors.
“The ease of it is absolutely a reason behind it,” Stender said. “They’re not doing the hard ones. They’re not going on the prowl.”
Not everyone has been enthusiastic about the police tactics, the sergeant said.
“You’d be amazed at how many people are upset at us when we knock on their door at 3 in the morning and say, ‘Do you realize that your garage door is open?’ ” he said.
Countywide, the number of burglaries dropped 16 percent, from 863 in 2012 to 742 in 2013, according to a Star Tribune analysis of figures from law enforcement agencies. (Current data were not available for St. Paul Park and Newport) Eleven cities and townships saw a decrease in burglaries.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office polices about 20 cities and townships, from Scandia south to Denmark Township.
Break-ins dropped by roughly 50 percent in Grant and Mahtomedi and by nearly 8 percent in the county’s largest city, Woodbury.
Reported burglaries in Cottage Grove also dropped, from 114 to 97, which police cited as an example of how creating a strong community policing program in which officers work closely with neighborhood watch groups can produce results.
“I think that that makes a difference in a community, because we only have so many officers out there patrolling to try to combat that type of crime, but the people in the community can help us out in that,” said Cottage Grove Officer Gail Griffith.
“I think for the residential-type burglaries we send some crime-prevention information out, but a big piece of it is to lock your doors.”
The department’s Criminal Interdiction Traffic Enforcement (CITE) unit, which focuses on traffic and property crime, has recently stepped up its patrols in the city, Griffith said.
In some cities, such as Afton and Hugo, there was a slight increase in burglaries. The number of break-ins in Forest Lake nearly doubled, from 37 in 2012 to 66 in 2013. In their December newsletter, Afton officials alerted residents to the dangers of leaving their homes and cars unlocked and unattended.
“This month has been incredibly busy with many area burglaries,” the newsletter said.
The latest figures, which have not yet been broken down into attempted, unlawful entry and forced-entry burglaries, will not be considered official until they are released by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension later this year.
Newport Police Chief Curt Montgomery said “we’ve had a little bit of an uptick in theft of cars in the past couple of years.
“A lot of those crimes are committed by juveniles,” he said. “And the juveniles, they grow up and start behaving themselves.”