Jim Smith returned to his Post Falls home late one night last week to find his side door ajar.
In the bedroom, he found jewelry scattered on the floor and several Black Hills gold rings missing. He and his late wife, who died 10 years ago from cancer, had collected them together over several years.
“You feel like you’re violated,” the 78-year-old retiree said. “Someone was messing with my stuff. It changes your life because now I have to look at everybody and say, ‘Are you the one that was watching the house, that kicked in the door?’ ”
Smith is one of dozens of Kootenai County residents whose homes have been burglarized following a similar pattern in recent weeks. In the past two months, the county sheriff’s department has received 91 reports of home burglaries, compared with 21 during the same period last year. That’s more than a 300 percent increase.
Kootenai County Sheriff’s spokesman Maj. Ben Wolfinger said the thieves are attacking in broad daylight when no one’s home. Deputies have received reports of people checking out residences by knocking on doors and saying they’re selling firewood or offering a dog-walking service.
Wolfinger said the homes that have been targeted are blocked from the view of neighbors, perhaps by a long driveway or trees or shrubs. The burglars are kicking down doors, taking cash, jewelry or other easy-to-carry items, and leaving.
Smith’s home is on a busy corner in Post Falls, but his side door is obscured from view. He believes the door was kicked in at the door knob.
He replaced the door and plans to install an alarm system, he said.
“I’m ashamed of our people,” Smith said of North Idahoans. “It’s nothing you want to brag about: Move to Idaho, get your door kicked in.”
Wolfinger said deputies have leads but have not made arrests. He said the best defense for residents is awareness. People should get to know their neighbors and look out for each other. Alarm systems are helpful, as are dogs that have access to the doors, he said.
While deputies have not determined a motive for the crime, Wolfinger said two likely suspects are the poor economy and illegal drugs.
“We expected some increases in theft and burglaries as the unemployment has drug on,” Wolfinger said. “That’s certainly an issue. It’s hard to say. Historically, where you’ve got a burglar, you’ve got a drug user. So we don’t know if there’s a new influx of addicts in the area.”
Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood said the city has experienced only one burglary that matches the county’s pattern in the past couple of weeks. Wood recommended residents use their deadbolts and start a Block Watch in their neighborhood.