Brazen on-base thefts shock Misawa residents
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A string of thefts in a span of six days has some families on edge and law enforcement anxious to stop the crimes.
Between Sept. 4 and Sept. 10, items were stolen from five H-style homes in main-base housing along Shenadoah and Sequoia roads, according to 35th Security Forces Squadron officials.
The thefts occurred in homes in the vicinity of the base chapel, officials said, and all but one is believed to have been during evening hours. One was reported after a home was left unattended and unlocked for an hour in the morning; for another, residents said they were upstairs when items were stolen from their kitchen. There was no evidence of forced entry at any of the homes; officials believe entry was gained through unlocked doors.
Senior Master Sgt. Donald Baribeault, an operations superintendent with security forces, said this isn’t the first time that base residents have reported stolen property from an unsecured home or vehicle.
“What is unusual about this is the pattern,” he said Friday. “It’s occurred in a short period, in a small geographic area.”
As of Friday, no suspect had been identified.
“We’re just speculating that it’s kids, but there’s not solid evidence to lead to a suspect or suspects,” Baribeault said.
Base officials stressed that while the recent string of thefts was abnormal for Misawa, it won’t be tolerated.
“At a time of war, when we should be looking at other threats to our base, we’re focusing our resources on a threat inside our gates,” said Col. Joel Malone, 35th Fighter Wing vice commander. “We’ll do whatever it takes to catch the individual or individuals who are committing these crimes.”
Word of the crime spate in the targeted neighborhood has spread quickly.
Vernita Beach, an Air Force spouse who lives a few blocks behind the chapel, said she heard parents talking about the thefts while picking her son up from school recently.
“People are saying whoever is doing it must be pretty brave because some residents have been in the house when it happened,” she said.
Baribeault and security forces investigator Staff Sgt. Jason Brazell characterized the thefts as crimes of opportunity.
“It’s quick in, quick out, so that nobody sees them,” Baribeault said.
In one home, a purse hanging over a kitchen chair in plain view through an unlocked screen door was stolen, they said.
Purses were snatched from two homes. Both contained more than $100 cash, bank and credit cards, and military dependent identification cards. One also contained a spouse immigration visa card. Other items taken included a digital camera, plane tickets, college textbooks, a set of keys, a wallet, and a laptop computer worth about $2,000.
Security-forces officials said they’re stepping up patrols in the area and are asking residents to report any suspicious individuals or behavior to the law enforcement desk at DSN 226-3600.
Base residents are also advised to lock up, when appropriate.
“If they’re leaving their house or car, secure it,” Baribeault said. It’s not necessary to lock doors while at home, he added, but it’s a good idea to keep valuables where “it’s not easy to do a snatch and grab.”
Beach said she used to leave her home unlocked while walking her kids three minutes down the road to school. Not anymore.
“I used to think it was so safe [here],” she said. “I am very surprised.”