Despite high profile incidents, Watertown crime generally down in 2012

Two high-profile business burglaries and a felony gun possession case that has drawn national scrutiny may give the appearance that crime is on the rise in Watertown, but that’s not the case according to Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson.

Olson presented data on Watertown crime during a public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 31, data that showed that crime in 2012 was actually lower than the 5-year averages for the city in most instances. Olson addressed the Watertown City Council during a meeting that was arranged to discuss a number of policing issues in Watertown.

While the focus of the meeting was on the Christian Oberender case, where the convicted Watertown Township murderer was arrested for being in possession of 13 guns, Olson also provided an update on the burglaries of the Marketplace Foods grocery store and the Luce Line Lodge restaurant. All three of those incidents have happened since July.

But while those high profile incidents give the impression that crime is on the rise, the data says otherwise. While there were 15 burglaries in Watertown in 2012, nearly twice the number of burglaries in the previous year (8), the 15 burglaries actually is comparable to the five-year average of 16 burglaries per year. In 2009, there were 28 burglaries in the city, and in 2010, there were 20.

“From the average standpoint, that falls right in line, but there were certainly more than there were in 2011,” Olson said in reference to the city’s burglaries last year.

Watertown crime levels in general also were at or below averages in 2012. The Sheriff’s Office classifies crimes as either Part 1 or Part 2, depending on the severity, and both of those types of crime were at or near 5-year lows in 2012.

Part 1 crimes include more serious offenses like burglaries, homicides, arson or aggravated assaults. Olson said there were 86 Part 1 crimes reported in Watertown in 2012, below the 5-year average of 99. The lowest number in the last five years was in 2011, when there were 72 Part 1 crimes reported. The 5-year high was in 2010, when there were 123.

Part 2 crimes include less serious offenses, like damage to property, disturbing the peace and minor assaults. There were 126 Part 2 crimes reported in Watertown in 2012, which was the lowest total in the last 5 years, and well below the average of 158. The 5-year high was in 2008, when 183 Part 2 crimes were reported.

Regarding the recent burglaries in particular, Olson said five of the 15 cases were businesses. In addition to the two highest profile incidents, the cash drawers were taken from two offices and a church was also burglarized. There were also nine residential burglaries — four of them at foreclosed homes — as well as a storage locker burglary.

Olson confirmed that the grocery store burglary, which was committed on July 3, and the Luce Line Lodge burglary, which was committed on Nov. 5, are believed to be related, and also believed to be the work of a group that is operating statewide, and even outside the state. Because of that, Olson said the FBI has also become involved, along with a statewide task force.

At Marketplace Foods, the burglars allegedly cut a hole in the roof to gain access. At the Luce Line Lodge, they are alleged to have cut a cable on the roof before gaining access to the restaurant in an apparent attempt to disable the alarms. However, they cut the cable television instead and the alarms activated as intended, leaving managing owner Tom Romanowksi frustrated by the law enforcement response time. He said it was more than 30 minutes between the time of the alarm and the response of the Sheriff’s Office, while the Sheriff’s Office says it was 17 minutes, with additional time being spent setting up a perimeter around the building.

Either way, the suspects in the Luce Line Lodge case were caught on surveillance tape, which tied them to another apparent failed burglary attempt at the Mayer Mobil Mart convenience store that same night. Olson said those suspects are believed to be part of a group operating statewide, a group that has struck numerous locations in Carver County including Chanhassen, Waconia, Watertown and Norwood Young America.

Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]