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Unoccupied homes need watchful eyes, police say

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — All around Aroostook County are many homes and camps without occupants.  

Snowbirds close up their homes and head south, while others go vacant as elderly owners move into a retirement facility or adult children inherit their deceased parents’ home.

Whatever the reason, though, unoccupied homes can invite burglary, vandalism and other crime, and homeowners should let law enforcement know if their property is empty for extended stretches, according to police.

In Presque Isle recently, police were called to investigate BB gun pellet damage at a High Street home whose elderly homeowner was hospitalized. A man taking care of home while the owner was at the hospital noticed the pellet holes in the siding and two windows.

No suspects were located and police recommended the use of a game camera, as well as taking advantage of the Presque Isle Police Department’s courtesy property check.

Presque Isle Police Chief Matt Irwin said that the department offers any resident regular, usually daily checks, of homes or businesses when owners are gone for an extended period of time.

“These residential and business checks are done on day shifts and night shifts as calls for service permit,” Irwin said. “Any resident can call our dispatch center and arrange for us to keep an eye on their home/business.”

Abandoned and occupied dwellings can be “tempting to kids and other vandals or burglars,” Irwin said. “It usually doesn’t take long for the neighborhood to realize when there is a vacant home in the area. They become a haven for vandalism and other types of criminal activity.”

Most local police departments offer similar courtesy check-ins on properties, as does the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office for places without a local police force, said Sheriff Darrell Crandall.

“This has been a seasonal issue in Aroostook County for many years,” Crandall said.

“We especially have a lot of cabins, cottages and camps in remote areas that are vacant a large portion of the year. We do have a fair number of calls every year from people finding their camps either vandalized or burglarized. Those are cases that are not always easy. To begin with, you may not even know when the crime occurred.”

Less often, deputies have found people “squatting” or living in abandoned properties, as well as people using abandoned properties to manufacture or use drugs, or teenagers consuming alcohol.

Some of those burglary cases can be solved with “good luck and hard work.” Crandall recommends that concerned property owners find a trusted friend or neighbor to keep an eye on their homes, sign up for a check-in program and even get a game or security camera.

Crandall said that this year so far, the sheriff’s office has conducted more than 3,000 check-ins on properties ranging from seasonal camps to closed town offices to utility substations.

“It’s a major focus of ours,” Crandall said of property protection. “Life safety issues come first. Property crimes come a close second because every cent of our budget comes from property taxes.”

Property owners in areas without local police coverage who are interested in the sheriff’s office check-in program can sign up by calling 1-800-432-7842.

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