Leaving the lights on is one way to welcome home a late-arriving loved one, but it turns out that the gesture has the opposite effect on those scouting out a place to burglarize.

“Most burglaries happen over night when it is dark,” said Kennebec County Interim Sheriff Ryan Reardon. “The single biggest deterrent is lights, inside and out.”

Reardon offered the tip, and numerous others, at a recent Business Insider Breakfast organized by the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce. Reardon and Kennebec County Detective Sgt. John Bourque led a presentation offering business owners advice on how to keep their properties safe from would-be burglars.

“No place can become burglar proof, but we can make it burglar resistant,” Bourque said.

Reardon approached chamber President and CEO Ross Cunningham last summer hoping to talk to the local business community.

“We’d been experiencing a lot of commercial burglaries, not in Kennebec County, but in the outlying areas,” Reardon said.

Bourque developed a list of suggestions, perhaps the most important of which is leaving the lights on, aimed at deterring burglars and assisting with the suspect’s capture should a break-in occur.

“If I could give one piece of advice, it’s lights,” Bourque said.

But there are other steps that business owners can take to protect themselves, such as making multiple bank drops on days when business is particularly brisk. Clearing away shrubs to remove hiding spots and keeping track of keys as they are handed out are simple steps businesses people can take. A security system that is well publicized by signs can be a deterrent as well, but it is important to make sure the system is in good working order.

“We’ve gone out to burglaries where the security system still requires a VHS tape,” Reardon said. Videos from the tapes, which are repeatedly recorded over, are often of such poor quality that they are useless to investigators. Reardon said there are affordable security systems that offer digital recordings.

There also are important steps business owners should take if they are victimized. The most important rule, Reardon said, is to leave the room without touching anything as soon as you realize you’ve been hit. The smallest bit of evidence can mean the difference between a capture and conviction and an unsolved crime.

“If you discover you’ve been burglarized, don’t touch anything,” Reardon said.

He said improved cooperation between law enforcement agencies has helped solve a number of those burglaries and in the process brought down rings responsible for dozens of break-ins.

DRUGS FUEL CRIME

The information comes at a time when the number of burglaries are on a steep upward climb. The Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office responded to 69 reported burglaries in 2014, eight of which occurred at a business. The agency responded to 117 burglaries in 2015, 20 of which were businesses. Those burglaries do not include the incalculable attempted burglaries that occurred each year.

“The trend so far this year is projecting upward,” Bourque said.

That upward trend is driven by the growing presence of drugs, particularly opiates such as heroin and pain killers. Reardon estimated that 85 percent of burglaries are driven by drug addiction, and the majority of those people committing burglaries are addicted to opiates. The issue was front and center on business owners minds during the question and answer session at the chamber breakfast.

“It’s very obvious that some of the business owners are concerned about the crime problem and how it relates to the business that they’re doing every day,” Reardon said.

Addicts become desperate to get money to buy drugs, Bourque said.

“The common thread seems to be doing it to fuel a drug habit,” he said.

EASY STEPS

The chamber’s Cunningham said he was surprised by the simplicity of many of the suggested safety measures. Simply updating a security system can have a profound impact, particularly in locating a suspect, Cunningham said.

“Things you wouldn’t necessarily think about these guys were great about pointing out,” he said.

Bourque’s suggestion to have two people open and close the businesses and to check hiding spots like bathrooms to make sure a burglar is not locked inside were particularly enlightening, Cunningham said.

“That was an amazing revelation,” he said. “I had never thought about that.”

Alec Rogers, owner and general manager of the Quality Inn & Suites Maine Evergreen Hotel on Whitten Road in Augusta, said the breakfast session drove home the role the community must play in alleviating the addiction epidemic and with it the crime rate.

“The devastation is just so far reaching,” Rogers said. “It’s not something law enforcement can do alone. We as a community really need to come together and get smart.”

Rogers said the session reaffirmed his belief that his hotel was handling security properly rather than revealing shortcomings. He said safety concerns for his staff and guests push him to be vigilant about security measures.

“We take it very seriously,” Rogers said. “I was happily checking off all the right boxes as the conversation went on.”

He said police and drug agents have told him the hotel’s commitment to safety has even spread to drug traffickers looking for a place to stay in Augusta.

“Thankfully, according to our friends on the force, we’ve become known as the place not to stay,” Rogers said. “The first priority is the safety of our guests, the safety of our staff and the strength of our reputation, and then selling rooms. Too often in our industry selling rooms is the first priority. It just enables things.”

Rogers said the conversation spawned during the question and answer period revealed the tough stance law enforcement takes against drug traffickers.

“They also are very aware that there are people wrapped up in this that had a life once and, perhaps with the right intervention, can have a life again,” Rogers said. “They are cognizant that many of the people wrapped up in it are victims and the impact it has on families.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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