It’s the phone call no parent wants.
A 12-year-old girl, home alone, called her father to say a man had knocked on their front door while another man waited outside in a red sedan. When the girl didn’t answer, the man went to the garage door, opened it and attempted to enter the house.Fortunately for that family, the Duxbury Police responded within minutes to the 9-1-1 call the father placed. They discovered the girl unharmed and the men gone. In addition to that attempt, two other break-ins occurred in Duxbury that same day.
The investigation is ongoing, but Duxbury Police Chief Matthew Clancy believes he knows the culprit: drugs. More often than not they’re not illegal drugs, but prescription opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone, Percocet and Dilaudid that are obtained illegally. And Duxbury has seen a rapid increase over the past few months.
“The burglaries have just gone through the roof because of the addiction explosion,” said Clancy. “It’s all drug related. We’re trying to attack both ends of the problem: we’re aggressively going after drug transactions and we’re going after burglaries.”
They’re not doing it alone. As a member of the Old Colony Anti-Crime Task Force, Duxbury has joined forces with 11 other communities – Carver, Hanson, Hingham, Hull, Kingston, Marshfield, Norwell, Pembroke, Rockland, Scituate and Plympton – to combat what has become a national crisis. Together they’re sharing resources such as K-9 units, surveillance equipment, unmarked cars and, perhaps most important, information. In an interview last week, Clancy lauded his officers and those of other communities for numerous arrests they’ve made over the past few months.
“Duxbury detectives were up in Sherborn putting handcuffs on people and we were in Pembroke the other day,” said Clancy, referring to the arrests of two men arrested last week in Pembroke and believed to be responsible for other break-ins on the South Shore. They are the latest in a series of high profile arrests of gangs working together to break into homes and cars during the day. Two weeks before the Pembroke arrests, Marshfield police nabbed a foursome suspected in the robberies of nearly 50 homes in the area. Police believe these crimes, specifically breaking and entering in the daytime, are mostly drug related.
“Lately, it’s been as quick as we grab one group, another is off and running,” said Clancy. “It’s drugs, drugs, drugs.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), opioid addiction in America is now considered an epidemic. A recent CDC report cites a 300 percent increase in the sale of these painkillers since 1999. Drug overdose deaths since 1990 have tripled. Since 2008, most of those deaths were caused by prescription drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy puts Massachusetts in the top ten of all states for drug use, with drug-related deaths exceeding the national average. It’s an issue local emergency rooms have been dealing with for years.
Dr. John Tracy is Chairman of Emergency Medicine at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth. In his role, he must walk a fine line when it comes to prescribing potentially addictive narcotics and vetting the people who walk through his emergency room doors seeking pain relief.
“We encounter it every day,” said Tracy. “It’s definitely an issue that we struggle with because we want to treat pain, but have concerns about abuse.”
In addition to his staff having a heightened awareness of the issue, Tracy said they use the relatively new Massachusetts Online Prescription Monitoring Program. A secure Web site administered by the Department of Public Health, it allows health care workers to check the prescription history of a patient for the past year. If after viewing all of the information at hand, Dr. Tracy believes a patient may have an addiction issue, he refers the patient to rehab. It doesn’t often help.
“That’s commonly not well received,” said Tracy. “It’s very challenging.”
Marshfield Police Captain Phil Tavares, whose department has a longstanding relationship with DPD, said there’s generally a progression in criminal behavior people are willing to risk as their addiction progresses. It often starts with stealing from family and friends, then neighbors, it may involve prostitution, and eventually evolve into felony breaking and entering of strangers’ homes. The thieves then take the stolen property to pawn shops – or worse for victims and police – to jewelry stores.
“The pawn shops are regulated by state law,” said Tavares, noting a police officer in Rockland developed software to help local police departments, with the cooperation of pawn shop owners, track incoming items. “Jewelry shops are not. So you’ll notice, and thieves notice, lots of ‘cash for gold’ signs.” Tavares said while some towns have bylaws requiring jewelers to track those transactions, many aren’t enforced.
Duxbury Police Lt. Christopher Chubb also credits the Rockland PD software with helping the DPD to partner with pawn shops to track stolen property.
“The same day items are entered into the system, we can ID items stolen from local residences,” said Chubb, who went on to say thieves want a quick cash turnaround so they can quickly get their next high. “It’s been very active the last six months in general, the past two months in particular.”
Clancy said most of the break-ins they’re seeing all along the South Shore occur during mid to late afternoon when homeowners are at work, houses are empty and an addict’s need for another hit is beginning to spike. A common tactic thieves use to break into homes is to knock on a homeowner’s door and, if they don’t get a response, find an unlocked window or door to enter, or break one. Generally, said Clancy, drug addicts breaking into homes want them unoccupied.
“We’ve had incidents here where (residents) did not answer the door and they heard someone at the back door or window,” said Clancy. “What [the thief] will typically say is something stupid like they have the wrong address or ask for directions. No one stops to knock on a door and ask directions.”
In those instances, Clancy wants the public to call the police to report it. Even if the person doesn’t attempt to enter the resident’s home, he said, the person may then move on to rob a neighbor’s home.
Another tool local thieves are starting to use is a cell phone. Chubb said they know of at least one instance, though he’s quick to say there are probably more, where a thief used a cell phone with a blocked caller ID It involved the thief parking nearby, calling first to see if the homeowner answered, and then knocking to be certain the house is empty.
“We’re looking strictly for blocked calls with instant hang-ups,” said Chubb. “Coupled with a suspicious person or vehicle in the area, we recommend they call the police.”