There have been no additional arrests, but residents of the Middleburg area gathered last night to hear an update on the investigation into a series of burglaries in the town and in northern Fauquier. But the meeting also provided an opportunity for residents to learn what they can do to protect their homes and keep their possessions safe.
Sheriff Mike Chapman, Middleburg Police Chief A.J. Panebianco and senior personnel with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said they could not comment on the details of the investigation because they needed to protect its integrity. Six burglaries have occurred since November, and there have been similar cases in northern Fauquier, just over the border from Loudoun.
Panebianco called on the residents to be patient with the investigation and to give investigators “the opportunity to solve the case before they talk to you about it. They are working hard on this.”
He said there has been a “harmonious working relationship” between the sheriff’s office, Fauquier law enforcement and Middleburg police. “You have a sheriff’s office and police department that want to make sure you are safe. That is the only goal,” Panebianco said.
They would say, however, that in addition to the man arrested in Richmond Sunday for his involvement in a residential burglary in northern Fauquier County and stealing a van from the Boxwood Winery, there are two “persons of interest” under investigation. One is believed to be in the Richmond area.
But even that information did not leave residents without questions—mostly whether they still needed to be on alert, lock their doors and set their alarms. As one woman noted, residents do not normally follow those security measures because they are not needed and “that’s why we live here.”
Chapman urged the residents to lock their doors and secure their homes, even after these cases are resolved. He said the sheriff’s office is using a variety of investigative techniques to find the perpetrators and protect the community, even when they might not be apparent to residents as they go about their days.
“There are a whole lot of things going on behind the scenes,” he said. When a resident questioned why they do not see more patrol presence on the back roads in western Loudoun and the Middleburg area, Chapman acknowledged it can be difficult in the rural areas to “be everywhere” but said the deputies are doing their best to cover every portion of the large swath of land in the western Loudoun sector.
“I would love to give more police presence out here,” he said. “But often it is a matter of resources. We are trying to keep the patrol strength up as much as we are able.”
Several residents, some of them from Clarke County, questioned whether the burglaries in Loudoun and Fauquier were connected to burglaries in Clarke County that happened in October. One woman noted the same types of items were stolen—jewelry and electronics—and that they could be connected.
Chapman suggested all information be given to the western Loudoun sector captain so they could work to determine if those cases were part of the pattern, but said, so far, that connection has not been made. “[In cases] we look at what was taken, where things were sold to try and make a connection. There was a pattern here that is what caught our attention.”
Chapman also urged residents to stay alert to what is going on and reach out to the sheriff’s office and Middleburg police whenever they have concerns. “You are our eyes and ears out there,” he said.
To complete the evening, Deputy Nathan Payne, one of the county’s crime prevention specialists, gave a lengthy presentation about home security, some of the fallacies and the best options for residents. He noted that while many people fear being home when a burglar breaks in, the majority of these crimes occur between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and that federal agencies have even reduced that to a prime time of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“They don’t want you to be at home,” he said, adding later in response to a question that break-ins during the night rarely have anything to do with trying to steal property.
According to Payne’s presentation, the average burglar spends only eight minutes in a home, and will spend only 60 seconds trying to get inside. The only thing that residents can do to prevent burglaries is to take away the criminal’s opportunity. Burglaries, Payne said, are a balance of “risk versus reward.” If a home has a lot of things that would appeal to a burglar—jewelry, electronic, money, guns, gold—then it would be considered a “high reward” house. For homes that would be viewed as high reward, homeowners and residents need to ensure their house also is a high-risk house. That means ensure it is secure and does not provide opportunities for burglars to enter undetected.
Payne told residents that 34 percent of burglars enter a home through the front door—doors that are unlocked—far more than any other method. He told residents burglars will often check a house to see if anyone is home before trying the front door. So, he said, if someone knocks on your door and you’re home, do not ignore it.
“Make sure they know someone is there,” he said. “They’re going to try to come in if they think you are not and you don’t want to be faced with a burglar.”
Payne did note that physical harm to a person is rarely the goal of a burglar—they simply want your property—but said residents should always be on alert, have an escape route in their house and identify a safe room where they can go if someone enters while they are home. That room, he said, should have an egress, like a window, and they should ensure they take a phone and something to defend themselves—“just in case.” He said he often recommends a master bathroom because you can lock the bedroom door, the bathroom door and then have a window to escape if need be.
He said it is especially important for residents to have their houses well marked with numbers that can be read from the street. “Burglars like houses that are not well marked,” Payne said, because it will take law enforcement that much longer to find the correct residence. “That’s another 10-20 seconds for them in the house.”
When it comes to their possessions, Payne said homeowners should take photos of their valuables and write down the serial numbers, to aid in recovery should they be stolen. In addition, he said master bedroom drawers and the closet are the worst places to hide valuables, and a jewelry box is just a “take-me” box. “You just made it very easy for them.”
Even safes, he said, should be bolted to the floor or the wall, because burglars will not take the time to try and break into it, they will simply take the safe and try to open it later.
He encouraged residents to plant things like thorny bushes outside their lower windows—“no one is going through a thorny bush”—and to create an illusion of occupancy whenever they are gone, including timers for some of their electronics like a television and not doing a mail stop and having someone collect their mail and newspapers.
“You want your house to be more secure than your neighbor’s,” he said. “That is sad to say, but it is true.”