Stung by a recent burglary that cost him a collection of rare coins as well as important personal documents, El Camino Real resident John Mooney has decided to battle back with a Neighborhood Watch program.
In February, while he and his wife were away, thieves forced their way into Mooney's home through a window and made off with a 200-pound safe he had in a back closet.
"There were four break-ins in the area in a 30 day period," Mooney said. "In two cases, safes were taken. Others lost rare coins or cash."
Two of the burglaries happened in the El Camino Real area, while the other two were in the Strawberry Mountain area.
Mooney said the Neighborhood Watch plan he's setting up will focus on an area that includes El Camino Real, Los Altos, Palos Verdes, and a private road in the area.
"People need to be aware of suspicious behavior. Burglary rates have really gone up," Mooney warned. "It's just a violation, and my wife is upset. To know we had those slimeballs in our bedroom, and going through our house."
Klickitat County Sheriff Chris Mace said detectives were working on the burglary investigations, which were ongoing.
"We recovered his (Mooney's) safe around March 10. It's in evidence right now, but of course it was empty," Mace said. "It doesn't appear to be the work of professionals. We don't know for sure if it's drug-related, but that seems to be a driving factor in recent thefts."
The safe was found in the water next to the boat launch at the Bingen Marina.
Despite the similarities in the crimes, Mace said he was not prepared to assume the thefts are connected.
"With two safes missing, anybody might come to the conclusion they're connected somehow," Mace said. "But we can't say that until we have real evidence to indicate that."
Mooney said the citizens of the community needed to take action themselves.
"Everywhere I go I hear the same: There is no funding for more police, more deputies, no funding for this and that," he explained. "With the meth [methamphetamine] issues, things could get out of hand here before they get better. There's more growth in the area, and more growth means more crime. That's why I'm spearheading a Neighborhood Watch program. Neighbors are going to be watching out for neighbors now. Any time there is suspicious activity observed, there will be a call to neighbors and to the Sheriff's Department."
Mooney said he has gotten a 100 percent positive response from those in the neighborhood he has contacted so far.
Sheriff Mace offered to help with the Neighborhood Watch program Mooney was setting up.
"We'd certainly help him get it organized and up and running," Mace said. "We can do a training and orientation about Neighborhood Watch, and how they can best help us by reporting, and how to get information to the Sheriff's Office a little quicker. We'll help get it set up and then the neighborhood takes over from there."
Mooney said he has been disappointed with the way the Sheriff's Office has handled his case.
"They responded immediately when I called, but it's after the fact that's got me burned up," he explained. "I was disappointed with the follow-up response from the Sheriff's Office. They've never contacted me; I've always had to initiate the contact."
Mace said the department had limited resources to work with, and defended his law enforcement team.
"I feel bad he got ripped off, but he wanted me to take all my deputies off what they were working on and work on his case," Mace said. "There are a couple leads we're following up on, but he doesn't seem to understand we have to have probable cause to make an arrest."
In a related action, KCSO detectives arrested a suspect in a string of Goldendale and Centerville area burglaries. In a March 18 news release, Mace reported that Clarence Gahagan, 64, had been taken into custody at his Goldendale residence. He was charged with alleged possession of stolen property in the first degree, alleged trafficking in stolen property in the second degree, alleged taking a motor vehicle without permission in the first degree, and two counts of alleged unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree.