Dozens of concerned residents attended a meeting on Tuesday night to hear the latest from the about the in the Washington Valley section of the township.
While the so-called "AC Bandit"—who has been breaking into homes since June by pushing in air conditioners on the first floor—remains on the loose, Acting Chief John McGuinness and Patrolman Steve Summerer told the 50 residents that showed up to the meeting at the Washington Valley Schoolhouse to keep a lookout for suspicious activity and always call the police if they see anything.
"You are our best eyes and ears of the police department," McGuinness told the Washington Valley residents. "If you do see something unusual and that doesn't fit, give us a call."
The latest of the four recent break-ins happened on Sunday on Burnham Road. While nothing was reported stolen, which police say could be because the burglar was scared off since the resident was home, jewelry and electronics were stolen from the other three homes on Gaston Road, Whitehead Road and Picatinny Road over the last two months.
The "AC Bandit" has not been seen during any of the incidents, so police are asking the community to look keep a lookout in the neighborhood. The police are running fingerprints and DNA evidence from the incidents.
Summerer told the community members that he suspects the burglar to be a possible drug addict between the age of 17 and 20, and carrying a backpack or duffle bag.
Summerer believes the burglar has a drug problem because the individual is breaking into the homes about once a week, quickly grabbing a bunch of items to sell to buy drugs, and then returning for another burglary to gain more items for another round of drugs, he said.
Another indication that the burglar is a drug addict, Summerer said, is that the individual is going into the medicine cabinets, and either using the drugs or selling them on the street.
McGuinness said the residents shouldn't feel that their lives are threatened because it is not a home invasion. The burglar is aiming to steal as many items without getting noticed, and when the individual feels a resident is home, the person will run out the front or back door to escape quickly.
"That is very typical of a burglar, they are not confrontational," McGuinnes said. "They want to be inside your home, grab the belongings, and get out of there as soon as possible."
Police believe the "AC Bandit" is familiar with the area because the air conditioners are hard to spot. Police think the burglar must have surveyed the homes to make sure no one was home before breaking in.
McGuinness and Summerer ask residents to lookout for someone who fits the description they provided who may be walking around the neighborhood and looking at houses. The burglar also might have a partner, they said, who could drive up to the burglar and pick the person up quickly. In that case, residents should mark down the license plate number if they witness the incident, police said.
If any unusual or related activity is noticed, residents are encouraged to call 911.
Keeping the "AC Bandit" from entering your home
To prevent an air conditioner break-in, police suggest having the windows "pinned," which would lock the air conditioner in the window. These pins are sold in hardware stores.
When residents go on vacation, it is important to appear that someone is still in the home, police said. The police suggest to lock up the homes as much as possible, and having a radio playing inside, lights timed to turn, and newspapers and mail taken in. Summerer suggested coordinating with neighbors to watch out for each other.
"Burglars don't want to go in a house where they think people are at," he said. "They don't want to confront people."
Summerer also suggested having residents stay safe by not posting that they're going away on Facbeook. Last year, the township saw several burglaries from teens who saw their friends post on Facebook that they were away.
While Morris Township is seeing a recent act of burglaries, McGuinness still wanted to let the community know that it is a safe area, and has a lower crime rate compared to surrounding towns.
"The township of Morris is one of the safest communities on Morris County," McGuinness said. "It has been for years."
The average number of burglaries are at 30 per year in the township. McGuinness said in 1980 they were at about 300, and have seen a significant decline due to the neighborhood watch, technology, better enforcement and the crime scene unit.