May 2, 2011

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

April 27, 2011 Pohnpei, FSM- While for the last several months the Pohnpei State Police department has been compiling crime report statistics that may or may not show that instances of burglary are on the rise, criminals, who don't care a whit for statistics or even for the Pohnpei State Police have been knocking off businesses and homes one after another.

Since the beginning of 2011, burglars in Pohnpei have exhibited a new brazenness in the commission of their crimes.

The criminals don't seem to be going for items they think they might be able to sell for cash, although some are still doing that. They're going for the real thing-cold, hard cash.

"They didn't touch any of the electronic toys and gadgets in my office," said Bob McGrath of Visual Impact.

Visual Impact is directly across from the Pohnpei State Government Complex on the main street in Kolonia. The store was burglarized more than a month ago when thieves boldly broke through the glass front door that faces the street and then had their destructive way with the place.

Criminals broke the cash register but found nothing in it but a few coins. "It's all we ever keep in there at the end of the day," McGrath said.

The burglars ransacked office drawers in their effort to find cash. They apparently tried to get into the safe but were unsuccessful in that attempt.

"They made a mess! It took us about four hours to clean up," McGrath said.

Visual Impact has since installed an external video camera.

Though burglars don't seem to know it, smart businesses don't keep cash lying around their offices at the close of a business day. While cash losses have been relatively low, damages for business owners have been high and costly.

Pohnpei Transfer and Storage (PT&S) was an early victim of the crime spree that seems to have started early this year. On January 30, criminals scaled the twelve foot chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Once inside the perimeter the thieves broke the one window on the building that didn't have security bars and entered an empty inside office with a locked door. The thieves broke that door down.

"After that, they did what they wanted to do. They had access to the whole place," said PT&S Manager Joe Vitt.

"They kicked down the (PT&S) office door and my office door," he said, "and they went through all the desks." Burglars in that incident trashed the office and walked away with approximately $55 of petty cash for their efforts.

Vitt said PT&S spent approximately $1000 to repair the damages.

And if other burglaries are any indication even security bars serve only as a short term impediment. Burglars have simply pried them from the walls and set them aside before breaking a window to force entry.

Neither Vitt nor McGrath has heard anything from the Pohnpei State Police about any suspects in the crime. As far as they know, no arrests have been made.

But then they might not have heard anything from tight lipped law enforcement officers.

An arrest was made in the case of the Mesenieng Credit Union burglary that happened late last Sunday night. Manager Albert Johnny could not get police officials to tell him who it was that they had arrested though it was through Mesenieng's own efforts that an arrest was made.

Like other smart businesses, Mesenieng has a policy that requires them to keep no cash in house over night. Thieves did steal blank checks belonging to some of Mesenieng's customers.

Johnny said that on Monday the Credit Union immediately notified businesses around Pohnpei to be on the lookout for anyone trying to cash any of the stolen checks.

It didn't take long before one person did try to cash a stolen and forged check at the Amcres gas station in Kolonia. Police were notified and that one person was arrested.

Certainly, in the case of the Credit Union, burglars could not have acted alone.

"They're not kids," Johnny said. "They had to be full grown adults. They pushed in an air con (for entrance to the building) and they dragged the safe away." He said that would have taken at least two or three strong men.

Johnny said that in order to get out of the building the criminals broke the inside glass door and kicked open the outside door. There was nothing of any cash or commercial value in the safe.

Mesenieng normally has 24 hour security but Johnny said the contract with the security agency expired one week before the break in and they were set to renew the contract this week.

"They (the burglars) were watching and they knew we didn't have security. That's when they broke in," Johnny said.

Sunday's break in was the second time that the Mesenieng Credit Union has been burglarized. Thieves got nothing of value during either incident but they did create an expensive mess.

Every victim of burglary at businesses we interviewed said that they knew of other victims of the crime.

Vitt said that the office of the Coconut Development Authority was "hit" on the same night as DHL. We were unable to contact the Coconut Development Authority for confirmation but we did contact DHL.

Logan Halverson of DHL said that on Friday night two weeks ago burglars jumped the fence, broke the front door and absconded with his laptop and approximately $120 in cash.

Napa Auto Parts was hit last Wednesday. Yvonne Hawkins said that burglars jacked up the bay door of the service area until it was "off the track." Once they were inside the burglars kicked down interior doors.

"They were looking for cash," Hawkins concluded. She said that every desk drawer that was locked had the lock broken and were standing open. They didn't get any cash but they did take some Napa checks and a digital camera. She said that some small items were stacked next to the bay door as if the burglars decided to take a consolation prize for their efforts.

Hawkins said that unless Napa takes a complete inventory they will never know for sure what merchandise might be missing.

Hawkins named her own list of purported crime victims including Neime Enterprises, A-One Fashion, a store owned by Senator Nakasone and several others.

We could not reach any representative of any of the companies she mentioned and at press time it was unclear if any of them were actually victims of burglary.

We were able to verify that the offices of the Postmaster General were burglarized just a few days ago but no one from that office that was authorized to speak about the incident returned our phone calls.

While business break-ins are high profile because they are essentially public places there is a public perception that home burglaries also appear to be on the rise. One man slipped through an open window at one of Nihco's bungalows over the weekend while the occupants were at home. He escaped without being identified and is still at large.

A representative of the FSM Executive Branch said in passing that at least two of the four Embassies headquartered in Pohnpei; the U.S. Embassy and the Embassy of Japan have registered strong displeasure with the apparent lack of law enforcement in Pohnpei.

In January of this year, Chief Joe Roby agreed to provide crime report statistics that would help us to write a news story that he agreed might have resulted in greater diligence amongst Pohnpei residents. In the several conversations we have had since that time he has said on each occasion that he was "still working on it." Two days before this press deadline we wrote him a strongly worded request for a statement about the crime situation. On the day of the press deadline he said that the statistics were nearly complete and that we should "stand by." On the day after the press deadline he wrote another email saying that he was meeting with Police officers about the burglary situation and that we should continue to "stand by."

No one from the Police Department has made any comment on the issue. Though there is a finger printing system in place that process is still in its infancy and police have not commented on whether it has been an effective tool to help combat the problem of burglary.