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Police, sheriff’s office conduct security checks for residences and businesses

BEMIDJI — Your business is closed. You’re not home. But someone is looking in your windows and checking your door locks.

It may not be a burglar.

A lot of people might not be aware of the Bemidji Police Department and Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office’s business and residence security checks.

Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin said the department has always provided the service. In 2013, the department started leaving calling cards to let people know the status of their business after hours.

“We want to let people knew we’re out there,” Mastin said. “Most of the time you don’t even see us.”

While on patrol, officers walk around buildings, shake doors, check for open windows and scan for suspicious activity in the vicinity. Mastin said if vehicles are parked in the lot, officers check for keys and secure the vehicle to prevent a theft.

“Mainly we check the structure to make sure things are as they should be,” Mastin said. “Occasionally, a fairly small percent of the time, we’ll find an open door or something that just shouldn’t be.”

Mastin said conducting the checks help his officers get out and get to know area businesses, which builds rapport with the community. Familiarity with the area reduces response time and increases an officer’s ability to spot irregularities.

“It will perhaps deter people from thinking businesses in town are easy targets. We don’t just wait for alarms. We’re out there actively looking for things that are wrong,” he said.

In outlying areas, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office is keeping an eye on businesses and residents properties. Sheriff Phil Hodapp said the sheriff’s office advises rural business owners on better ways to secure their properties.

“Nowdays you can add video surveillance for a lot less than you could 10 years ago,” Hodapp said.

If officers and deputies have time, they will leave a card letting business owners know their property was checked. Hodapp said a card will not be left, however if it is a residence as not to tip off potential burglars.

“There are a lot of seasonal homes out in the county,” Hodapp said. “Often a vacation home can be burglarized in the winter and not reported until spring.”

Mastin said the same attention given to businesses is given to residences, adding that the police department and the sheriff’s office both offer security checks for snowbirds.

Although time has lapsed between the theft and a reported burglary, Hodapp said, DNA and fingerprint evidence remains and can aid in capture of a burglar. Vacation home watch forms are available on the Beltrami County website,

“A lot of those snowbird checks we assign to our citizen’s patrol and our reserves,” Mastin said.

The citizen’s patrol is an independent group of volunteers who work with the police department. Mastin said the tasks taken on by the citizen’s patrol prevent stressing the responsibilities of on-duty officers.

“It’s a cost savings effort there as well,” Mastin said.

Citizen’s patrol and reserves provide security at school dances, parades, carnivals and house checks. The citizen’s patrol has been around for more than 20 years. The Bemidji police reserve crew was sworn in Jan. 21.

“Typically, the reserves are college-age students who are interested in the criminal justice field,” Mastin explained. “They get a little more hands-on training.”

Reserves range in age from 20 to 50-years-old, while Citizen’s Patrol are people older than 50.

The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office has a community guard that operates similar to the citizen’s patrol and reserves. Community guard is comprised of all ages of adults and conducts random patrols. “The community guard patrols all the way up into the northwest part of the county,” Hodapp said.

Aside from Blackduck, smaller towns and cities outside of Bemidji in Beltrami County don’t have their own police force.

“Our mission is to protect the lives, rights, privileges and property of the citizens of Beltrami County,” Hodapp said. “We take that seriously.”

Thwart thieves

Some tips from law enforcement on how to protect your home or business:

Be sure your home is secure.

Draw some shades.

Install auto lighting indoors as well as outside.

Be sure snow is cleared.

Hold mail and newspaper delivery.

Arrange for a seasonal security check with the sheriff’s office or police department.

Have a local contact person who will have a key if law enforcement finds something suspicious.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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