By Steve Guntli
A group of concerned citizens sat down for an open forum with Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies to address recent thefts in Birch Bay.
On December 13, around 40 Birch Bay locals met at the Birch Bay Bible Community Church to discuss a spike in burglaries since the end of August. Birch Bay resident deputy Zac Reimer and chief criminal deputy Doug Chadwick came to the event to give citizens an opportunity to ask questions and receive advice on how to protect themselves against theft.
“If we have an area that’s going to have an influx of population, like Birch Bay in the summer, we try to focus some of our additional resources there,” Chadwick said. “When the traffic to that area slows down, we typically funnel personnel elsewhere.”
Several people in attendance have been robbed in the last several months. There have been 38 reported burglaries in 2014, not including December. This is already more than the total 32 reported burglaries in 2013, but less than the 59 in 2012.
“Birch Bay is not unique in this,” Chadwick said. “We’re seeing similar trends countywide.”
Birch Bay resident Arne Cleveland organized the event. While Cleveland has never been robbed, several of his neighbors have had property stolen, and he knew the level of concern in the community. He sent out a mass email to the residents of Birch Bay, and invited the sheriff’s office to take part in the forum.
Boats are a favorite target of thieves. A large number of batteries have been taken from boats moored in the bay. Recently, several boat motors were taken from people’s vessels. Reimer said he is investigating a suspect in the boat motor thefts.
Chadwick urged residents to keep records of serial numbers for their pricier belongings, such as televisions, power tools and boat motors.
Reimer said most of the crimes he’s solved in the area have been drug-related. Often, several burglaries are solved at once when officers raid a suspected drug house and find stacks of stolen goods. Deputies are able to return stolen goods much faster if the victim has kept track of their serial numbers or kept photos of their belongings.
“These thefts are crimes of opportunity more than anything,” Chadwick said. “Sometimes a thief can be deterred just by seeing a big dog in a yard, or a prominently-displayed sticker for an alarm system.”
The sheriff’s office is implementing a new computer system that would allow the community to easily monitor crimes in the area from the county’s website. Burglaries and thefts would show up on an aggregated map, similar to the sex offender system already in place. Chadwick estimated the system would be in place by late in the first quarter of 2015.
The sheriff’s office has been struggling with manpower issues, which have limited their coverage in Birch Bay. Chadwick said three deputies have either retired or resigned in the last two weeks. The sheriff’s office is planning to make three new hires next month.
Birch Bay resident Mike Fleming expressed frustration that the lack of manpower and the increase in criminal activities has pulled focus from other legal issues, such as monitoring traffic along Birch Bay Drive.
Fleming said he’s witnessed hundreds of people speeding with very few tickets given out.
“I live on that street and I use the beach,” Fleming said. “Every time I cross the street I’m taking my life in my hands.”
Chadwick promised to pass Fleming’s comments on to the county’s traffic division.
Most people had nothing but praise for the sheriff’s office, and deputy Reimer in particular.
“It’s been a real advantage to Birch Bay to have [Reimer] here,” said Pat Alesse, owner of The C Shop. “He’s gotten to know the community, the businesses, and we’ve gotten to know him.”
The forum also served as a send-off for Reimer, who recently accepted a law enforcement position in San Juan County. Chadwick said the sheriff’s office is interviewing several deputies for the position.