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Key Royale break-ins concern residents

By Lisa Neff, Islander Reporter

The Holmes Beach Police Department is investigating a spate of break-ins on Key Royale that have some residents in the community concerned.

“We lost our privacy, security and sense of comfort in our home,” said Brookie K. Ritchie, whose home on Ambassador Lane was broken into while she and her husband were visiting the Chicago area.

A police report indicates the break-in occurred sometime between Sept. 29 and Nov. 5. HBPD on Nov. 18 reported that someone gained entry to the home by breaking a screen and window lock, then climbing through a bedroom window on the canalside of the property.

Ritchie said just one item appeared to be missing.

“This is the weird part,” she said. “The house was not disturbed at all, but a shoe tree was missing and shoes were turned over, dumped.”

HBPD also is investigating a half dozen other burglaries on Key Royale, according to Lt. Dale Stephenson.

In addition to opening an investigation last week on the Ambassador Lane break-in, HBPD began investigating a burglary to a home in the 600 block of Key Royale Drive. The break-in occurred sometime between Oct. 28 and Nov. 10, Stephenson said.

The consolidated location of the incidents leads police to suspect a link in at least some of the crimes.

“I believe,” Stephenson said, “there’s a common thread.”

The lieutenant spoke cautiously, emphasizing that he doesn’t want to “tip” HBPD’s hand in the investigations.

But, he noted, in such crimes, the culprits usually are local.

“Out here, more often than not, the people who commit the crimes live out here,” Stephenson said.

He added that HBPD has a couple of persons of interest in “some Key Royale cases” and has turned over some evidence to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for processing.

“We’ve made some arrests on burglaries,” Stephenson said. “And we have some suspects in some others.”

In each of the break-ins on Key Royale, the homes were unoccupied — sometimes for extended periods.

As a precautionary measure, HBPD encourages homeowners to contact the department before they leave for a length of time to enroll in the House Watch Program. Enrollment costs $7 per home per vacation. During the summer, HBPD officers may check security at as many as 70 residences under the House Watch Program.

Ritchie said House Watch sounds like a program she might subscribe to for comfort and security on the next trip.

But right now, she’s still “pretty creeped out.”

“The comfort of our home is gone,” Ritchie said.

She also expressed concern about HBPD’s response to the break-in.

The Ritchies said they reported the burglary Nov. 5 and requested the HBPD dispatcher send an officer to their home to take a report and collect any evidence.

“They dropped the ball,” Ritchie claimed. She said a “very apologetic” officer didn’t respond until she wrote complaint letters nearly two weeks after the call and after the broken lock was replaced.

Stephenson, however, said he checked the HBPD call log and talked with the dispatcher, who reported that the man from Ambassador Lane who called said it wasn’t necessary to send an officer to prepare a report.

Stephenson also refuted some Key Royale residents’ concerns that burglaries are on the rise. Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics for the first quarter of 2011 show a decrease in the city.

“We’ve been very proactive when it comes to being in the neighborhoods at all hours,” Stephenson said. “I believe this has something to do with the drop in crime.”
The lieutenant also urged property owners to be proactive.

“Protect yourselves,” he said. “Buy motion-censor lights. Install an alarm system. Ask a neighbor to watch your home. And be a good neighbor. Watch the house to the left, the house to the right, the house across the street, the house across the canal.”

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