by A.C. Hall
A string of home and vehicle burglaries struck the 500 – 700 blocks of Hallvale Street last week. The White Settlement Police Department said reports were coming in for about two weeks related to thefts in the area. One person who lives on that block says the thief struck seven times in one night last week. Detective Brandon Tibbit of the White Settlement Police Department explained how the thieves were scouting out their targets.
“We had a mother and son who were knocking on doors asking residents to mow their yards for money. The mother and son would then return at a later date and time to burglarize the residence. They would also check car doors and enter unlocked vehicles,” Tibbit said.
With the suspected thieves showing their faces around the neighborhood, residents were able to piece together the identity of the son. Hallvale Street resident Kelly McDowell said she and her neighbors used observations and social media to figure out who the suspected thief was.
“One of our neighbors spoke to him when he was leaving to go to work at 4:30am. He said he was looking for lawns to mow. I later posted his description on The White Settlement Neighborhood Crime watch page and spoke to all of the residents on our street. A few hours later we had a name, pictures, and address,” McDowell said.
Detective Tibbit confirms the community’s involvement in identifying the suspect, crediting a private message the WSPD received on Facebook for providing the suspect’s name.
“We started getting more information from the reports coming in and it looked like the name provided by the Facebook follower was our suspect,” Tibbit said.
For McDowell and her neighbors, simply identifying the suspect wasn’t enough. They were determined to follow through and help the WSPD put an end to the burglaries.
“Once we knew who he was and spoke to everyone in the neighborhood, we made it our mission to get him off the streets,” McDowell said.
As they began observing the suspect, McDowell says that he was aware they were on to him.
“We wanted him to know that we were not going to put up with his crimes. We work very hard for the things we have, and we aren’t going to stand for anyone to steal from us,” McDowell said.
Using observation skills and often communicating through social media, McDowell and her neighbors kept the suspect under surveillance.
“The people living next door to him would comment on my post anytime they saw him leave. We would follow and keep up with him and post his whereabouts all throughout the day and night. It was definitely a community effort,” McDowell said, adding that they kept the police informed of what they were doing and seeing as they watched the suspect.
Even with the neighborhood watching him, the suspect didn’t stop committing crimes.
“He continued to perform these robberies even after he knew we were onto him,” McDowell said.
With the residents in the area being so open and bold as they tracked the suspect, McDowell said there were some concerns that came up as the burglaries continued to happen.
“The night before he was arrested it was reported that he had stolen a gun out of a vehicle. It was becoming clear that he was getting more bold in the things he was doing. We were concerned that things would escalate since he knew exactly who it was that was reporting him,” McDowell said.
Just as the neighborhood was doing, the WSPD utilized social media to help them bring down this suspect. The WSPD Facebook page made a post on May 19 asking residents on Hallvale Street to turn on their exterior lights so the suspect would be easier for them to spot. Just a few hours later, WSPD updated their post, announcing they had arrested the suspect. The suspect’s mother had already been arrested.
McDowell shared how the neighborhood reacted to the arrests.
“We were extremely happy and felt like the sleepless nights had been worth it. We were also very proud of the WSPD. I’m sure they were tired of hearing from us, but they always responded either in person or by message,” McDowell said.
Increased communication with the citizens and increased use of social media is something new Police Chief J.P. Bevering pointed out as a priority as he became Chief just a few weeks ago and it appears this is already making a difference. Detective Tibbit commented on the Facebook followers the department has.
“They have been a great asset to our department every time we have asked the followers for help. We had people telling us where the suspects ate dinner the night they were arrested and everywhere they were seen that day. If we did not have the help and support of the community we would have had a much harder time finding the suspects,” Tibbit said.
McDowell praised the WSPD for how they handled the case, saying social media was a great tool that made for effective communication between the residents and the police. She also hailed the arrest of the suspect as a triumph for the community.
“This is a very good example of the neighborhood and PD working together. We got out there and went house to house making sure that everyone knew what was going on for those without social media. It was a community effort and proof that when everyone comes together, the bad guys lose,” McDowell said.