When Joyce and Richard Ennis of Spokane discovered this spring that their summer cabin had been broken into, they took it in stride.
“This time it wasn’t so bad,” Joyce Ennis said Monday. “We were just thankful the place wasn’t torn up.”
In the 35 years the Ennis family has had a summer home on Hayden Lake’s Windy Bay, they’ve been the victims of about a half-dozen burglaries.
The worst one was the year the burglars tore out wall-to-wall carpeting and sprayed the inside of the cabin with a fire extinguisher.
“I guess we’ve gotten used to it,” Ennis sighed.
Sifting through stacks of cabin burglary reports is almost a rite of spring for area detectives.
“There’s gazillions of them,” said Sgt. K.F. Sopher of Kootenai County, who’s investigating a handful of burglaries that appear to be connected in the Windy Bay neighborhood.
Officials in Kootenai and Bonner counties in Idaho and Stevens and Pend Oreille counties in Washington say they’ve noticed the reports are coming in slower than usual this year.
“They’re just trickling in,” said Kootenai County’s Capt. Wolfinger. “Burglars are basically lazy and they only go out when it’s nice weather. We typically do worse when it’s a lighter winter.”
Stevens County Undersheriff Dick Arend said he’s been pleasantly surprised with the low number of reports so far this spring.
“In the years that I’ve been here, it’s an exceptional spring,” he said.
Instead of weather, Arend is pointing to increased efforts to prevent and report burglars by the sheriff’s department and residents.
The county has a rural “watchdog” program that encourages neighbors to keep an eye on unoccupied homes. In addition, a sheriff’s posse patrols summer cabins and the department has emphasized getting deputies out on county roads.
The watchdog program contributed to an arrest this winter, Arend said. A deputy responded to a citizen’s call and stopped a car full of teenagers who had stolen items from a summer cabin in their car, he said.
“We usually get an outbreak (of reports) as soon as residents go out to their cabins for the first time,” Arend said. “So far it hasn’t panned out.”
Other officials speculate that perhaps the spring weather hasn’t been pleasant enough to lure hibernating recreationists to their summer homes.
Some people might be taking better precautions, too. Many people purchase burglar alarm systems for their summer homes, according to Chris Bitterman of Inland Alarm.
About 15 years ago, the Ennis family and neighbors pitched in to fence off and install a locking gate to their Windy Bay hideaway. A couple of the residents also hired someone to check on their cabins in the winter months.
The recent break-ins may have occurred because the gate wasn’t closing easily and was left open accidentally, Joyce Ennis speculated.
Authorities advise summer residents not to leave valuables in their cabins. What they do leave should be well-documented with serial numbers and even videotaped, if possible.
By spring, the trail may be cold, Wolfinger said.
Sometimes, detectives can work backwards from pawn shops, or from property recovered in another way, to catch the criminal.
“That’s probably how most burglars are caught,” he said.
But don’t count on a sheriff’s deputy or a neighbor to nab the culprits.
“With a rural lake cabin, where there’s nobody around for months, the chances of finding that potential witness are pretty slim,” Wolfinger said.
“People need to take precautions themselves.”
, DataTimes MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: For summer cabin owners, crime marks the change of seasons
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