Brazen burglary near Ramstein Air Base draws attention to upward trend
By WILL MORRIS AND MARCUS KLOECKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 3, 2017
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Until recently, James Hicks’ life in Germany could best be described as idyllic.
He worked during the day at modernizing air traffic control systems and spent his nights planning travel adventures for himself and his wife.
But on Sept. 28, when Hicks returned home after a monthlong temporary posting, he found his car had been stolen and his house had been picked clean by burglars.
Hicks has since taken to sleeping with a golf club close by at his home in Kusel, a village near Ramstein Air Base.
“Now every time there is a noise in the house I get up and wait, and then I go back to sleep,” he said.
His wife has avoided the noises altogether. She will not return from Florida to live in Germany until they find a new house.
Burglaries like the one that Hicks experienced have become more frequent in the region, where about 50,000 U.S. Defense Department personnel and family members live.
Statistics for the Westpfalz region, which includes Kaiserslautern and Kusel, show a 22 percent rise in break-ins over three years. There were 883 reported home burglaries in 2016, up from 825 in 2015 and 725 break-ins in 2014. Police say the trend may have leveled off this year, though data was not immediately available.
There are no indications that burglars are specifically targeting Americans in the Kusel area, said Bernhard Christian Erfort, Kaiserslautern police spokesman.
Most of what was stolen from Hicks’ home was consumer electronics. Hicks estimated he lost more than $10,000, much of which was uninsured.
Hicks said he thinks someone cased his home and others in the area, looking for signs of residents who were away.
“I don’t think it was anyone local in Kusel,” he said. “Maybe somebody saw me. I wear a suit and tie every day. What really got me is they took my documents.”
Though he locked the doors and windows, Hicks conceded he left the house with the lights off and the shutters open in the back of the house.
That might have made his house a target.
Alexander Kunz, a detective with the police in Kusel, said the risk of becoming a burglary victim when you’re away from home can be minimized.
“The obvious first: Lock your doors and close the windows,” he said. Just as important is to “simulate that someone is at home.”
“If you know that you go on vacation, talk to your neighbors, let them know you are leaving, and ask them if they are willing to empty your mailbox. If the mailbox is flooded by mail, this is an obvious sign that someone is not at home.”