Get Rid Of That Hide-A-Key, Chief Says

WESTFIELD, NJ – The public may be underestimating the sophistication of burglars who broke into homes earlier this week, police said.

The burglars, in some instances, scoured properties and found residents’ hidden keys in unlocked garages and cars, acting Police Chief Christopher Battiloro said on Thursday.

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Following the three Saturday burglaries and one on Oct. 4, Battiloro said that locking doors is not enough.

“Hiding keys ‘under the mat’ and in other traditional such places is not a good idea,” Battiloro said. “Valuables need to be secured. Vehicles need to be locked. Garages need to be closed.”

Residents speaking to the Town Council on Tuesday expressed deep concern about the crimes, demanding transparency from police and elected officials about the spate of crime.

Elm Street resident Philip Minardo said his home had not been burglarized, but his neighbors have, and he has been kept awake at night worried his home might be burglarized.

“This is the kind of town where you’re supposed to be able to hide a key in your backyard,” Minardo said. “It seems as if this is almost being blown off as this is not a serious crime. 'Lock your doors and this will go away.' These are serious crimes.”

Last month, Battiloro said, burglars broke into unlocked cars in significant numbers, stealing valuables and in some instances the vehicles.

On Thursday, he said, the department is taking its warnings online in a social media campaign, which police departments across New Jersey and the nation are participating in: the #9PMRoutine in which police remind the public to lock their doors and secure valuables by 9 p.m.

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The campaign, which has since begun in some New Jersey municipalities, began with The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported. In August, Denville, in Morris County, adopted the social media campaign, New 12 New Jersey reported.

Mayor Shelley Brindle has asked the police to increase patrols.

No arrests have been made in connection with the crimes, Councilman Mark LoGrippo, who sits on the town’s public safety committee, said Thursday.

“What’s happening now, I’ve never seen since I’ve lived in town,” LoGrippo said, “To have people come in in the middle of the night while people are sleeping. What would happen if someone did wake up?”

Security measures being considered, he said, include cameras of street light poles.

In the meantime, the residents’ concern is mounting.

“I have not been robbed yet, but the fear is real,” Minardo said. “My wife has not slept. I stayed up to 2 a.m. last night, watching every gnat set off my security cameras.”

Writer Kate Brochu contributed to this story.

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh