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WCAX Investigates: Burglary breakdown - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

WCAX Investigates: Burglary breakdown

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

When you leave your home, someone could be watching.

"It was terrifying," Marikje Shelmandine said.

A burglar broke down Shelmandine's front door.

"What he stole wasn't worth a lot of money," she said.

When intruders get in, they steal more than your belongings.

"My undergarments had been gone through by a stranger. It was one of the worst feelings I've ever had," Shelmandine said.

Two years after a criminal ransacked her Jericho home, she can't shake the creepy feeling.

"The entire idea of being safe alone at home is gone," she said.

"Psychologically it can be very damaging to people," said Tom Powell, a forensic clinical psychologist.

Burglary is considered a nonviolent offense. But psychologists say the emotional scars from such an invasion run deep.

"One of the most striking differences before and after for a victim of burglary is the feeling that the house is no longer the same," Powell said.

"When my husband would leave, I was nervous about what time he would come back, how long he was going to be gone," Shelmandine said. "Was there someone in the driveway? Did I see a car drive by slowly?"

For some, the violation is so tremendous they have to move.

"I couldn't live there anymore," Shelmandine said. "We did have to move out a few months later. I just couldn't do it. It was too much."

"A good burglar will watch a building," Burlington Deputy Police Chief Shawn Burke said.

Burke says many burglars will case a neighborhood, watching residents and learning their habits before a rash of break-ins. He says Vermont's opiate epidemic is driving the crime spree, addicts fulfilling a desperate need for items they can sell or trade for a quick fix.

"We oftentimes will have a young, addicted kid who will break into houses and they'll break into a lot of them and they'll break in indiscriminately," Powell said. "It's an important point for victims to know. Their house wasn't picked out because of them. It was picked out because it was the next house in line."

We wanted to know how often this is happening and how many criminals actually get caught. There's not a central agency that tracks burglary trends, so we had to call each police department to get you answers. Here's a snapshot of Chittenden County: Since the start of the year, Burlington's had 184 reported burglaries; 50 in Essex; 48 in Colchester; 38 break-ins in the eight towns state police patrol; South Burlington had 33; Winooski had 17; 15 burglaries for Milton; 12 for Williston; and Richmond and Hinesburg tied with six.

We found that most burglaries go unsolved-- around 75 percent.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: Is there anything you can do to protect yourself?

Dep. Chief Shawn Burke: Lock doors and windows. It's that simple.

And keep an eye out for anyone who seems out of place. Police say you know your neighborhood best.

If a burglar does get in, police say there are clear do's and don'ts.

"The first thing they should do is call 911 because they can never be certain that the burglar isn't still present," Burke said. "Try not to disrupt anything because the crime of burglary does present a number of forensic evidentiary opportunities for the police."

Asked if police caught a suspect in her burglary, Shelmandine said, "Not exactly."

Richard Bushey was caught on camera trying to fence a watch Shelmandine bought for her husband.

"This is his watch," she said. "I know if for a fact."

Pawn shop surveillance was enough to nab Bushey for possession of stolen goods. But troopers couldn't get him on the actual break-in. Bushey claimed he found Shelmandine's belongings in the parking lot.

"He had already been found guilty of doing this before. He had a record. And we kind of felt like he knew exactly what to do to foil the system," Shelmandine said.

Police say burglaries usually happen during the day and rural homes get hit more often. Thieves are targeting guns and jewels.

The good news is burglaries are down slightly throughout Chittenden County compared to past years. Police say that's, in part, because a few notorious serial burglars are currently behind bars.

Shelburne did not provide its burglary statistics for our story.

If you want to check out crime in your neighborhood, there are a couple online tools. In Burlington, the public can use the police transparency portal. CrimeReports.com allows you to search incidents for the rest of the state.

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