Clarksburg Talks Burglary
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.
The recent break-ins became general knowledge after Stamford Selectmen requested a public meeting with state troopers and deputy sheriffs more than two weeks ago. A number of Clarksburg residents attended that meeting to voice concerns. More than 120 residents of both towns came together this past Saturday to discuss ways to create neighborhood crime watches and better secure their homes.
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."