Suspicious incidents in Birch Bay prompt citizen concerns

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The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) is increasing their patrols of Birch Bay, and plans to add another deputy to the area, after many residents have reported a recent surge in suspicious incidents including vehicle prowls, mail and package thefts, home and vehicle break-ins and burglaries.

In recent months, many Birch Bay residents have reported seeing suspicious individuals walking or driving around in their neighborhoods and attempting to enter homes and vehicles by checking for unlocked doors. The suspicious individuals, who are sometimes dressed in construction clothes, have also stolen property from local residents ranging from mail and packages to bicycles, wallets and even firearms. It is believed that the suspects, some of whom are believed to be juveniles or homeless individuals, are looking for cash or items to sell for cash, in order to fund their expenses and drug habits.

In addition to reporting the incidents to WCSO, residents have been sharing their stories with neighborhood groups on Facebook and apps including Nextdoor and Ring Neighbors. Some of the residents have even shared still photographs or security or doorbell camera footage capturing the suspects’ faces, license plates or attempted crimes. While WCSO said that photographs and camera footage are often helpful, they are sometimes not enough to make an arrest.

“These are helpful but do not make it 100 percent that we would have a suspect,” said WCSO chief deputy Kevin Hester. “If good camera footage is obtained, sometimes we can identify the suspect and then use this to go after them. We still have to prove a case and have enough evidence to establish probable cause for an arrest. Just a photo of someone is not enough to arrest, but it does help us investigate.”

Birch Bay deputy Todd Damon confirmed a recent rise in vehicle prowls and burglaries, including in the neighborhood bordered by Harborview Road, Lincoln Road, Anderson Road and Glendale Drive. He said that two suspects were arrested for those vehicle prowls, and that one of them, a juvenile, is believed to be responsible for most of the criminal activity in that area. He also said that over the holidays, there was a “significant” increase in package thefts. “We had some cases with video, but it wasn’t enough to verify identity and establish probable cause,” he said.

According to WCSO statistics, there were six burglaries, 10 thefts, eight vandalisms and nine vehicle prowls in the Birch Bay area in the 60-day period ending January 10. Whatcom County sheriff Bill Elfo said that WCSO plans to add another deputy to the Birch Bay area in response to the level of crime. “We feel that the issues in the Birch Bay area are sufficient to require adding another deputy and will work that in as a budget request during the next budget cycle,” Elfo said.

In the meantime, WCSO said that their patrol deputies have increased their patrolling of the area as call load permits. Deputy Damon has also met with concerned community members to gather information and offer advice for taking proactive steps to reduce crime. The WCSO’s advice includes always locking your doors; maintaining clear visibility by keeping landscaping around your home and office’s front and rear entry areas trimmed; participating in neighborhood watch programs to be alert and aware of your surroundings; and installing security and doorbell cameras to capture activity and alert you to someone’s presence at your door.

WCSO also recommends using high-security and commercial-grade locks, including ANSI Grade 1 and Schlage bump-proof locks. This is to prevent “lock bumping,” a lock-picking technique that criminals use that leaves no trace of forced entry. 

Joe Zaccaria, a corporate security consultant and Birch Bay resident whose neighborhood has been affected, offered additional tips to local residents. He said that residents can use outside lighting in the evening hours to deter crime, and that they should make sure their home address numbers are highly visible to police and fire personnel. He also expressed concern about several online posts stating a desire to purchase firearms in response to the surge in local crime.

Zaccaria, a former cop, emphasized: “If you decide to purchase a firearm or apply for a concealed carry permit, get sound training from a certified firearms instructor who can also educate you on the law and when not to use a firearm. Practice at a range and never take actions that will put you or your neighbors at risk. Knowing the law is as important as being proficient with firearms. You can’t shoot people walking away with your flat-panel TV or brandish a weapon when there is not an actual threat to your life or someone else’s.”

Zaccaria said that many cities in the U.S., including Seattle, offer live crime maps online, and he encouraged WCSO and the Blaine Police Department to offer this new tracking tool. In Blaine and Birch Bay, “there is no public access to area crime data in real time as there is in many other cities across the U.S.,” he said. “It seems like the criminals’ right to privacy is more important than the rights of victims. Even California law enforcement share real-time data with their citizens. We need to get with the times.”

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