Best offense against break-ins is strong defense, say police

The recent theft and damage done to the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Pioneer Avenue has some good news and some bad news.

First, the good news is that the September break-in most likely was not a forerunner of similar acts that sometimes increase in the area as winter approaches.

“Historically, that can happen,” Lt. Will Hutt, of the Homer Police Department, said of a link between burglaries and deteriorating weather. “But we haven’t seen it this year and we hope we don’t. Sometimes people don’t have enough money to get out of town and we’ll have a rash of this type of stuff.” 

It also appears the thrift store wasn’t purposefully singled out.

“I don’t think they’re being targeted specifically,” said Hutt.

That’s tough for Lt. Jeff Josephson of the Salvation Army to believe, however. Earlier this year the store was broken into and “they didn’t take anything that we could see, but they destroyed a bunch of property,” said Josephson.

In the September incident, someone broke in through a back entrance at the store and physically removed a 250-pound safe and its contents. 

“They damaged the door and we’re going to have to replace the whole frame,” said Josephson. “And they tore up the carpet by dragging (the safe) across the floor.”

Since the safe was stolen, the store has received additional damage.

“We’ve had vandalism out front that we’re trying to figure out,” said Josephson. “Once or twice a week somebody shows up to work and there’s broken glass.”

The thrift store was built around 2000 and is owned by the Salvation Army. Five employees — one full-time and four part-time — keep it operating from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The employees’ salaries are paid out of the store’s sales, said Josephson. Receiving and sorting donations requires the additional efforts of volunteers, community service workers and high school students working on community service projects. 

The bad news, when it comes to damage to the store, is the impact that has on the community.

“Last year we did $63,100 worth of financial and-or voucher services to people in Homer,” said Josephson. “We provide rental and utility assistance, we purchase firewood for people, heating oil, we give people a hand up that have experienced some kind of event in their lives that has set them back. … That’s when we step in and help them stay on track so they continue to be active participants in our community.”

Some donations have been received to help keep the thrift store operating, but more help is needed. 

“We could really use some help with volunteers for the Kettle Season this year, ringing the bell, and we could use a little increase in donations just to get us past this,” said Josephson. 

The kettle, bell-ringing program begins Thanksgiving weekend and continues until Christmas Eve in front of Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware and at each of Safeway’s two entrances. To volunteer, call 235-2609 and leave a message.

Monetary donations for the Salvation Army in Homer can be put in an envelope and left with the clerk at the thrift store or they can be mailed to P.O. Box 3784, Homer, AK 99603.

“We try to do the most good we can with the store income and to have someone steal it out from under us is disheartening at the least, but it also puts a crimp in our ability to help others,” said Josephson. “Any help we can get is greatly appreciated. We’re slowly recovering from the loss.”

To date, Homer Police Department has received a couple of Crime Stopper tips about the thrift store break-ins and is following up on them. Hutt urged businesses to use “security systems, motion detectors, anything they can do to prevent this kind of thing from happening. … If they want to get in, they’ll get in, but don’t give them a reason. Make sure doors and windows are locked.”

Security cameras also can be helpful, according to Hutt. They also can be convenient.

“You can monitor them from your home,” he said.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

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