New Berlin - Although the city almost had a murder in 2016, except that a gas station robber's gun jammed, saving the clerk's life, New Berlin was relatively quiet as far as crime went last year.
It had no homicides, four armed robberies, no aggravated assaults, and five vehicle thefts, according to police. An elderly couple was found in November shot to death in their home, but police are not calling the incident a homicide, as the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office has not yet made a determination. Health issues were involved in that case.
"Our community is fortunate to not experience a significant number of violent crimes," said Sgt. Dan Hanlon whose duties include tracking crime in the city.
Burglaries stayed steady at 47 last year, a pace of almost four per month. Slight increases occurred in criminal damage, thefts, retail thefts, drug complaints, domestic violence and drunken driving, compared to 2015, he said.
Of the 15 categories of crime Hanlon tracked, identity theft was third highest in the number of incidents reported last year. The total was 206 incidents compared with 211 for domestic violence and 224 for disorderly conduct.
Although the majority of those arrested were New Berlin residents; police arrested many more Milwaukee residents than ever before, Hanlon said. The reason is that they are involved in a lot of retail thefts, which have quadrupled over the last two years, he said. Nearly half of retail theft arrests are of Milwaukee residents, he said.
New Berlin police also arrested people from as far away as Hawaii and California, he said.
Police are encouraged by the overall reduction in property crime. Hanlon interpreted that as being due to people keeping valuables out of sight from car windows, to locking car doors, and to calling police if they see suspicious persons and vehicles.
Being careful removes the opportunities that many drug users look for to steal or even to commit burglary, he said.
Calling police for suspicious persons or vehicles is probably just as effective in keeping a lid on crime, Hanlon said. A report to police gives officers a good reason to talk to the person to see if they might indeed be up to something, he said.
Knowing how important those extra eyes are in the community, a major focus of the department is to get the message out that people shouldn't hesitate to call police if they see something odd going on, even if it's only someone walking through backyards, Hanlon said.
"Let us check that out," he said.
The department tries to keep the community involved by use of Facebook, extensive use of Twitter and through monthly emails, he said.
By those means, police let residents know what's going on, so they can keep an eye out.
For example, alert watchers can tip off police when the home repair scammers arrive, as they do every summer, to rip off homeowners, especially the elderly, Hanlon said. They usually claim to be in the area and offer to do roofing or driveway seal coating at bargain prices. The only problem is that the roofs soon leak and the seal coating washes away when it rains, Hanlon said.
"They're basically scamming people," he said.
Tipoffs neighbors can see are out of state license plates, he said. If police know the license numbers or the area outfits that might be scammers are working, they can catch up with them and do background checks to see if they are on the level, Hanlon said.
If they are, they should have an easily accessible track record, will likely be based nearby and be known by the Better Business Bureau, he said.
Seniors at risk
Senior citizens remain vulnerable to other scams as well, especially identity theft, typically through phone call scams involving a fictitiously distressed loved one, he said. They have lost thousands of dollars in these crimes, which are difficult to investigate because they often come from out of state or out of country, Hanlon said.
He emphasized the importance of stressing to elderly family members or neighbors that they should be careful with phone, computer, or mailed solicitations, as the vast majority are scams.
Future is wireless
Looking to the new year, Hanlon said the police department will emphasize the importance of installing wireless cameras at homes and businesses. While many such devices are on the market, police recommend cameras with recording capabilities and those that are able to send pictures and videos to the owners' cell phones.
Prices have come down to less than $200, he said. The department offers a $25-off coupon to New Berlin residents on its website http://wi-newberlin.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/7566.
New Berlin police also do a number of community outreach activities. In 2016, they provided 136 car seat inspections for parents, 41 tours of the police station to children, had 59 speaking engagements with young people regarding personal safety, did 52 presentations to businesses on safety and security, gave 28 talks to senior citizens regarding scams and personal safety, made 63 appearances at requested public relations events, gave 22 presentations to financial institutions regarding robbery prevention, provided 33 security surveys to residents and business, and did home visits to sexual offenders living in New Berlin.
The department also conducted two 10-week Citizen Academy courses.
2016 CRIME STATS
Homicide -- 0 (0 last year)
Burglary -- 47 (47 last year)
Robbery -- 4 (1 last year)
Vehicle theft -- 5 (3 last year)
Aggravated assault -- 0 (1 last year)
Criminal damage to property -- 113 (108 last year)
Disorderly conduct -- 224 (241 last year)
Theft -- 199 (176 last year)
Theft from vehicle -- 40 (46 last year)
Theft of gas -- 12 (16 last year)
Retail theft -- 123 (115 last year)
Identity theft -- 206 (234 last year)
Drug complaints -- 120 (101 last year)
Domestic violence -- 211 (208 last year)
Drunken driving -- 158 (143 last year)