NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is hosting a community meeting on Thursday, Feb. 11, at 6 p.m. at City Hall to discuss neighborhood safety and crime watches. Mayor Richard Alcombright, whose home was burglarized last spring, talked a little about the issue at Friday's Northern Berkshire Community Coaliton forum.
The call for a crime watch is prompted by a spike in burglaries in the city and other parts of Berkshire County and Southern Vermont. The first indication of a rise in the area began last fall with a series of break-ins, many of which police say are linked to a Pittsfield man, Stefan Veremko. More recently, homes in North Adams, Adams, Cheshire and Williamstown have been broken into, including the parents of Jennifer Breen Kirsch.
Kirsch, a former Middlesex prosecutor, criticized the handling of the case and is now spearheading efforts to develop local crime watches.
"I think it's a bold attempt. We're going to bring the city, we're going to bring the private citizen, the Community Coalition together and, hopefully, folks will show up and consider the neighborhood watch as a solution to stopping crime in their neighborhoods," said Alan Bashevkin, executive director of the coalition, of next week's meeting.
Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco urged residents to contact the police about starting a neighborhood watch.
"Call us up. We'll show you [how] and we'll guide you through it," he said. "And we won't just leave. We'll show up every month at your meeting. ... But it takes a neighborhood to start a neighborhood watch program it takes somebody to step forward and say 'we're going to do this' and get the neighbors to show up."
In any case, said Morocco, "don't leave your car unlocked, don't leave your house unsecured."
Breaking and enterings, or B&Es, happen anytime, he said. "The recent rash were more bold, daytime, but they happen all times of day and night."
The commissioner said about 85 to 90 percent of all crimes - domestic violence, child abuse, larceny - here and nationwide can be attributed to substance abuse.
Liz Shiner of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, said domestic violence has increased and that the county's rate for retraining orders is 40 percent above the statewide rate. The center would be willing to teach neighborhood crime watches how to deal with domestic violence, she said.
Morocco shared some interesting information about how Veremko allegedly plotted the numerous burglaries across the county and into Vermont over the past year.
According to Morocco, Veremko kept a notebook with a list of likely houses. He'd case the house and look up the phone numbers, call and track when they weren't home. "He'd do his homework," said Morocco. "He was probably the most sophisticated burlglar I've ever seen."
Veremko is being held on $250,000 bail after being arraigned on numerous charges relating to the break-ins.
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