We received this letter from Clarksburg Selectman Carl McKinney on the recent break-ins. Rather than just post it in our letters section, or on the multiple stories we decided to post it here with links back to it.
First and foremost, I would like to both express my sympathy and empathy to those folks whose homes were violated and robbed. I know from first hand the feeling. In 1976, we were robbed. Clarksburg really didn't have a Police Department; we had a constable and deputy. They did the best they could. But my Father did not go down to the Selectmen and blame them. Things happen. And society is changing.
The Clarksburg Police Department has been working on these cases tirelessly, and I know Chief Mike [Willliams] has been putting in 16 hour days. Thank God he's on salary. I know he has been in contact with the district attorney, the Massachusetts State Police Crime Unit, the Berkshire County Drug Task Force and neighboring community police
departments. This is how it is either going to be solved…or not. There are no guarantees, and throwing money at the problem will not necessarily result in a different outcome.
I applaud the creation of Crime Watch Units. When we had a B&E last spring in the East and Daniels roads area, many people came to complain. The Chief offered to assist them with the creation of a Crime Watch. After the break-in was settled, that was it - no more communication, no interest, and that's where it was left. If a community watch is to be successful, it will require determination, co-operation, co-ordination and communication…for the long haul;.
Much has been made and said about the furloughs. We had to cut 5 percent in that area of the budget. We had 3 options: A) Institute major layoffs (as it was we eliminated a Library Aide). B) Cut all Town Employee wages 5 percent and make them work the full 52 weeks; or C) Furlough the employees and keep their jobs intact, their salaries and benefits intact. We chose C.
Over the last seven years, the School Budget has increased on an average of $67,000 per year. The Town side of the budget has gone down over those seven years, hitting a low of $790,000 (from $1,000,000) a 21 percent reduction ... gradually going up to $990,000 last year, and reduced to $919,000 this year. We are still able to provide good services on a reduced funding schedule.
Much ill-informed diatribe has also been spewed about the "high taxes" in Clarksburg. That's HOGWASH. Clarksburg has the fourth lowest tax burden per household in all of Berkshire County. And we are between a quarter or a third of the property taxes they pay in Vermont, New York AND New Hampshire.
The lowest tax town is Hancock. But they have ski resorts, and TIME SHARE CONDOS. Those folks pay taxes on those condos but do not use the school system. Next is Florida. They have $90 MILLION in commercial tax base for the
hydroelectric generating facilities within their boarders.
Next is Egremont (I believe, don't hold me to it), and I do not know what their deal is, nd then there is Clarksburg. And all we have is each other. We have no grand taxing ability. Although the Town of Clarksburg could raise taxes 35 percent and not even hit Proposition 2 1/2. We choose not to; 30 percent of our homeowners are elderly folks living on fixed incomes. I know for a fact that there are elderly folks living in cold houses, and using public food security programs to survive. A dollar or two on the tax rate means a lot to those folks.
I do not think throwing money at every problem is the answer. And even if we wanted to throw more money at it…we would have to have a Town Meeting. How many of you even attended this spring's Town Meeting? Did you standup and request more money from your neighbors for the Police Department? I do not recall anyone doing that. Yet you want to hijack the town government, with a pistol and an attitude, and think you can do better. I don't think so. Let the Police do their job.
Carl W. McKinney
Clarksburg Selectmen Member
P.S. I do not post anonymously. When I write something I sign it with my name. You people hiding behind your keyboard and anonymously spreading fear, and anxiety, and misinformation…and sometimes outright lies sickens me.
Update at 2:47 p.m.: Town Administrator Michael Canales has informed us that the utility company will not give permission to post crime watch signs on its poles because of liability issues.
However, "if people have signs they want posted, they can bring them to Town Hall, myself or Chief Williams, and let us know what street they want them on and we will place them on street sign posts," says Canales.
I wasn't able to get to Lenox on Thursday but the story appeared in both The Transcript and The Eagle this morning. It should be available here for about a week.
At least one Clarksburg couple, Valerie and John Wilson, found personal property in the hundreds of items taken from the arrest of Stefan Veremko.
There's been a lot of talk about Veremko not being charged in the Clarksburg burglaries. This may be jurisictional; he may have to be arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court. If it's a matter of "receiving stolen goods," they not have to charge him up here. I'm trying to find that out.
There's also been questions of why Clarksburg is continually left off the list of towns in which the break-ins have happened. This is an error promulgated by the first press release from Lenox that omitted the town. The newspapers keep running the incorrect list (cut & paste?).
Next: Veremko's believed to involved in two to four break-ins; there have been six in Clarksburg since September. At least two break-ins he's not suspected in because of what was taken and the seeming familiarity the perpretator had with the home. (I read "friend or family member" in that.)
I also received this from the Stamford Community Watch regarding reports of break-ins on Hudson and Pine in Clarksburg:
"Regarding Pine Ave. & Hudson Brook. It has been reported that there has been "suspicious" circumstances at a home on each street recently. Homeowners reported that there were unusual things at the houses, mainly with an outside entrance. Again, we don't have reports of a break-in, just that they indicated unusual circumstances."
Still have a call into Vermont state police; still haven't gotten back to me.
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.