Ray Duckler: Pittsfield couple hoping to take a bite out of crime
Frank and Melissa Babcock pose for a portrait with their daughter Addison, 2, in downtown Pittsfield close to where they will be attending a meeting tonight where they hope to begin a meaningful conversation about starting a neighborhood watch. After the robbery at Melissa Babcock's Pittsfield home left her family $18,000 in loss and damages, she decided to take action. Along with support from her husband, Babcockis organizing a meeting tonight, August 20th, in hopes of creating a community watchdog program for the town of Pittsfield and surrounding neighborhoods.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Melissa Babcock and her daughter Addison, 2, goof around while playing in their front yard in Pittsfield on Sunday afternoon, August 20, 2013. After the robbery at their Pittsfield home left her family $18,000 in loss and damages, she decided to take action. Along with support from her husband, Babcock is organizing a meeting tonight, August 20th, in hopes of creating a community watchdog program for the town of Pittsfield and surrounding neighborhoods.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Stuff was gone, everywhere they looked.
The four-wheeler out back in the shed. The power and woodworking tools in the basement. The iPad, camcorder and digital camera on the first floor. The three huge containers of coins, worth about $1,500, on the top floor.
“Violated,” Melissa Babcock said yesterday. “I still feel that way.”
The story of the burglarized home in Pittsfield doesn’t end there, though. Not while Melissa and her husband, Frank, have turned into the McGruffs, looking to take a bite out of crime.
Coordinating their effort with the local police, the Babcocks have called a meeting for 6:30 tonight at Jitters Cafe, in downtown Pittsfield. The home base for this communal effort is well named, because the town is, well, jittery.
That’s because a number of homes and businesses have been hit in and around Pittsfield recently, Pittsfield police Chief Robert Wharem says.
“It runs in cycles,” Wharem said. “The biggest problem is when someone sees a vehicle and it draws your attention and it’s not reported.”
About 20 residents have said they plan to attend today’s meeting. Wharem says his department has been advertising for watchdog programs on the police website for seven years, but no one ever stepped forward.
“The Babcock family has spearheaded this,” Wharem said. “I commend them.”
Melissa runs a preschool in downtown Deerfield, across the street from the town hall and fire department, and next door to a church.
It’s a serene area, with an innocence inside the school – colorful blow-up letters, a fish tank and Melissa’s 2-year-old daughter, Addison – that contrasts sharply to what the family found at their home this spring.
Melissa taught her preschoolers that day, Frank worked his job as an information technician and, later, the couple watched Addison during her swim lessons.
In a bizarre coincidence, Melissa and Frank went home that night to talk about security issues with Melissa’s parents, whose Barnstead home had been burglarized the week before. Melissa’s mother scared off the intruder, who was wearing a hoodie and who bolted from the basement and into a waiting getaway car, driven by someone else.
This time, right before everyone sat down for dinner, Frank noticed ATV tracks through the grass, outside the kitchen window. “Didn’t think much of it,” Frank said. “We have a snowmobile course out there. Then I saw that the tracks came out of our shed.”
The shed that once had a $10,000 ATV inside.
And the search for missing merchandise was on. The couple noticed some stuff gone during their initial search. They noticed other valuables gone only when they needed them, like a power tool or chain saw.
All told, about $18,000 worth of items and money were stolen, not to mention Melissa’s birth certificate, which happened to be in a large gift box that contained hundreds of dollars worth of change.
“I had to prevent against ID theft because of my birth certificate being stolen,” Melissa said. “I had to go to the DMV. I had to go to the Social Security office, and I had to take a day off from work to do all of that.”
There was no forced entry, but the couple suspects that their false sense of security led to the crime.
The doorknob locks were locked.
The dead bolts were not.
“The standard door lock you can open with a credit card,” Melissa said.
The thieves have not been caught, and the stolen items may never be returned. As for the couple’s peace of mind, that’s been a work in progress.
They spent the first three nights after the incident in the living room, not sleeping, watching the front door, protecting their daughter, asleep upstairs.
Melissa washed all the bedding and scrubbed the house, top to bottom. Frank installed surveillance cameras. Power tools are no longer left out in the open, and strange cars are watched carefully.
“Anytime I’m near the shed or in the backyard, I feel sick to my stomach,” Melissa said.
“The disbelief hung on with me for a while,” Frank said. “The feeling of safety within the confines of our home was gone.”
Enter the crime dogs.
Melissa, a lifelong resident of Pittsfield, spoke to friends and neighbors, in and around her hometown. She connected the dots and grew alarmed by the picture that emerged.
“I heard about what had happened to others, before and since what had happened to us,” Melissa said. “I made a mental note of burglaries, and the list was absurd.”
Wharem and others on his force will be at Jitters tonight. They’ll explain how the program works. It’s not rocket science, simply common sense.
“Heightened awareness, better dialogue, more communication,” Wharem said.
The bite out of crime, the Babcocks hope, begins with tonight’s meeting.
“Doing something,” Frank said, “is better than doing nothing.”