ADDISON — When Addison resident Michele Kelly and her husband, Charles, moved to Vermont from Philadelphia a number of years ago, they didn’t foresee themselves in the middle of a crime wave.
But their home is just one of nearly a dozen in Addison — several in the past couple weeks — and many more in surrounding towns from which burglars in the past year have stolen, usually during daylight hours, items like jewelry, cameras, watches, computers, prescription drugs and family heirlooms.
“Nobody’s safe. They could go … anyplace, anytime,” Kelly said.
In early February, more than 150 residents attended a forum at Addison Central School on the wave of break-ins, which local police say are almost certainly being committed by burglars looking to fund drug habits.
Police gave residents a lot of advice about how to protect their homes and pledged additional patrols at that forum, and also said a neighborhood watch might help.
Since them, the town has made progress toward establishing the Addison Community Watch, with Kelly, Betty Darragh and Lorraine Franklin — also burglary victims — among the key organizers.
The three co-signed a flier inviting community members to an April 11 meeting at the school that asked residents to “help crime proof our community” by helping establish the watch.
“I just thought I have to do something. I’m sure that’s how Betty and Lorraine felt,” Kelly said.
Kelly, Franklin and Darragh also met with the town selectboard on April 2 and successfully lobbied for $500 to pay for watch signs on the main entrances to Addison. Earlier this year, the selectboard also agreed to fund more sheriffs’ patrols.
The group has also divided Addison into 12 watch districts by population: five along Lake Champlain, four along the central Route 22A axis and three along the eastern edge.
They have also recruited block captains for seven of the districts, which are mapped out on the town website (addisonvt.org), which also includes other watch information.
The current list of captains, some of whom are sharing districts, includes Darragh, Charles Kelley, Steve Fillion, Deb Laramie, Phil Grace, Richard English, Mike and Deborah Kirby, Kelly Wellings, and Cara and Brad Mullin.
Kelly said sharing the duties broadly would be vital moving forward.
“To have this work, it’s got to be in the individual districts,” she said.
Their duties will include creating a phone tree to get out information quickly about suspicious vehicles or incidents, and educating residents about note-taking. Those tactics might help gather vital information to help police solve crimes, Kelly said.
“We just want to get good information to help police. We don’t want to be vigilantes,” she said. “We don’t want to be an armed patrol. We just want to protect each other.”
Police have said such information can be helpful, and told residents in February that watches have reduced crime by up to 65 percent in some communities.
“We would like it if anybody had any information anytime, call the police,” Kelly said. “They’ve been very, very good about accepting the information.”
The group also has an active Addison VT Community Watch Forum Facebook page with 157 members, who are using it to communicate with one another about suspicious incidents and share ideas. For example, one member suggested carrying a digital recorder to quickly save license plate numbers or details about suspicious vehicles, and another recommended installing cameras.
It’s not clear how soon the signs will be up. Kelly said organizers want additional signs within neighborhoods, and hope that captains can work within districts to determine how many more will be needed and where they should be placed. The watch group will also have to fund more signs — the town funding will just pay for the signs at the town borders.
“We haven’t ordered them yet because we’ve been waiting for the district captains,” Kelly said. “If people want them on the secondary and tertiary roads we’ll have to buy them separately.”
The group doesn’t expect the signs to scare off criminals, but rather to prompt residents to stay on guard.
“Right now all we really want to do is make people aware and alert as to the problem,” Kelly said. “I don’t know the signs are going to catch these people or even threaten them, but it is a reminder to us to keep alert.”
Some of the efforts are paying off already. Burglars target homes they know are empty, and neighbors are helping each other.
“When people are going away for vacation, they are letting other people in the area know, and they are picking up their mail,” Kelly said.
Meanwhile, many in Addison are not feeling comfortable in their homes knowing the burglars remain at large.
“They’re nervous. It’s not a nice way to live,” Kelly said, adding, “They haven’t been caught, and that’s the scary part.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]