Clarksburg Police Chief Michael Williams explains the burglary investigation on Wednesday night.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — More than 30 residents packed into the Selectmen's meeting on Wednesday night to find out more about the investigation into a half-dozen break-ins here and in nearby Stamford, Vt.
The arrest of a suspect in a rash of burglaries stretching from Southern Vermont to South County has calmed some fears but residents are continuing their crime watch with the support of town officials and police.
"The best [law enforcement] tool is community involvement and looking out for each other," said Selectman Carl McKinney.
"This is really just great to see the community doing something like this," said Selectwoman Lily Kuzia. "I think it's wonderful."
But if the audience was hoping for more, they were reminded by Police Chief Michael Williams that it was completely within their power to hire more officers and schedule more patrols — by voting for funding.
"[You] approve what the schedule is by approving the town budget," he said.
Officials began the meeting by getting right to the issue with a statement read by Town Administrator Michael Canales that detailed the timeline of the most recent break-ins and the collaborative work that Williams had done with local police agencies and state police crime scene services — short-circuiting recent complaints that the town had failed to call in troopers.
In fact, when it came time for public comments, the crowd remained silent, leading Chairwoman Debra LeFave to quip: "What are you all doing here?"
At least two of four break-ins in town (and possibly a third) since the end of October have been connected by police to Stefan E. Veremko, 28, of Pittsfield, and his girlfriend, Tara Malloy, a former Clarksburg resident. Two in Stamford, Vt., also may be linked to Veremko.
He was arrested on Friday after a sharp-eyed probate officer reported his car fleeing from a daytime burglary in Lenox. Veremko pleaded not guilty on Monday to multiple counts of larceny and breaking and entering in Southern Berkshire District Court. He is being held on $10,000 cash bail or $100,000 bond. Malloy is reporting cooperating but is also likely to be charged.
Williams said investigators were still following the evidence and others may be implicated in the string of break-ins here and in other towns. They did not appear to be related to several break-ins last year, some which have been closed, he said, and it was still unclear if Veremko was connected to some burglaries back in September.
But while the pieces of this puzzle were falling into place, said the chief, "there's no guarantee that someone else is not going to break into your house."
The town has a handful of break-ins a year, but it's been a clear trend that the small police force is having to deal more with criminal activity than traffic violations. Williams described it as "a societal trend" in which property theft is becoming more common.
"You're not giving me the warm and fuzzies," said one resident. Canales assured them that the town has mutual aid with the other county agencies, meaning North Adams or state police could also respond as needed. But he also pointed out that it took a lucky break for Lenox and its much bigger police force to nab the suspect.
Williams also encouraged residents to continue calling in suspicious behavior, and reminding them that police can't just arrest, search or interrogate people simply on suspicion.
"Legally I can talk to anyone but they don't have to talk to me," he said.
Officials said they'd find out about posting crime watch posters on utility poles and getting a street light on a dark corner of MacArthur Drive in response to questions. They also passed out refrigerator magnets with emergency numbers: Call 911 in an emergency, the police/fire dispatch in North Adams at 663-3313 to report a crime or police business phone to report suspicious behavior or make an appointment.
"I hope we have allayed some of your fears," said LeFave. "But we don't have all the answers."
Stefan Veremko, 28, was arrested after being spotted running from a Lenox building with a pillow case full of loot, said police. Veremko may be responsible for a rash of break-ins reaching from Southern Vermont to South County.
"We have reason to connect him to a couple of the housebreaks in town," said Police Chief Michael Williams on Monday. "We're still working the investigation with the other agencies in trying to link him to others [incidents]."
Williams said he was contacted by Lenox police on Saturday, the day after Veremko was arrested.
Recent burglaries in Clarksburg and Stamford, Vt., have had residents up in arms. More than 100 packed into the Stamford Valley Golf Course clubhouse on Saturday to discuss a forming a crime watch.
According to the Lanesborough Concerned Citizens Newsletter, that town, too, has been dealing with break-ins. Lanesborough Police Chief Mark Bashara said every effort was being made to find the perpetrators, according to Editor Al Hartheimer, and that all Berkshire County police departments were cooperating in the effort.
Stamford held a meeting with state police and a deputy sheriff two weeks ago over break-ins; Richmond is planning a similar meeting this Wednesday. Unlike those two towns, Clarksburg has its own, albeit small, police force and doesn't depend on state police for coverage.
Williams said he's been working with state police and other police agencies and that they keep each other apprised of ongoing investigations through a monthly "detectives' meeting," at which the recent rash of break-ins around the county was discussed.
"We had been putting the information together but couldn't link the Stamford and Clarksburg ones to that group," he said. "Now we're able to and its starting to fall together now."
It's not unusual for the bedroom community to have a few break-ins a year, but this time four occurred one right after the other at the end of October, beginning of November. At the same time, at least two break-ins were reported in Stamford and a possible attempted one. A couple break-ins had also occurred a month or so earlier in Clarksburg.
A number of Clarksburg residents have complained of lack of communication but Williams said the Selectmen have been kept informed and officers have spoken neighbors, as well as talking with other police agencies such as North Adams. A lot of information can't be released, he said, because it could hamper an ongoing investigation.
Veremko's arrest could bring closure to a number of break-ins fairly quickly.
"A majority of the time it doesn't happen [this fast]," said Williams. "I've seen it go for a year and then we find a clue or get information that closes the whole case."
The Selectman will take up the issue of the burglaries on Wednesday during their meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. A scheduled public hearing about a blighted house has been rescheduled to Dec. 9 because of problems getting the legal notice published in time.
Update 11/17/2009: Lenox Police will hold a viewing of the hundreds of pieces of evidence found from noon to 8 on Thursday, Nov. 19, in the auditorium of the Town Hall at 6 Walker St. Only those who have been a victim of a larceny and have an ID (driver's license, etc.) and proof of loss (such as a police report) will be allowed into the viewing. For more information, contact Lenox Police at 413-637-2346.
WNYT Channel 13 is reporting that a Pittsfield man connected to dozen break-ins around the county, Southern Vermont and eastern New York over the past six months was arrested in Lenox because of "a very observant witness."
Lenox Police Chief Stephen O'Brien told the station on Sunday that Stefan Veremko, 28, was charged with a daytime break in, receiving stolen property and possession of ammunition without a permit for an incident last Wednesday
Veremko broke into a building on East Street in Lenox last Wednesday afternoon, according to police, and was spotted
jumping into a gray Hyundai Elantra and fleeing the scene. The witness jotted down the license plate, followed the car until it turned down a dead-end street, then noted the license plate was switched when it re-emerged.
The car was seized Friday and police found evidence of recent burglaries in his home.
Veremko was to be arraigned in Southern Berkshire District Court on Monday. The Lenox Police Department will display evidence seized a later date. Anyone who's been victim of a breaking and entering into their home and suspect that Lenox may have some property should contact their local police department.
According to his MySpace page, Veremko is a student at BCC (where he made honors) and an assistant supervisor at Hillcrest Educational Centers.
Thanks to the Stamford Vermont Crime Watch for bringing this to our attention.
Update 11/16: We may have more news soon on Veremko's alleged connections to break-ins in Clarksburg.