By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – For Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, the recent slate of thefts from unlocked cars are more than just petty crimes.
They’re a stress on the Oneonta community as a whole.
“These aren’t huge larcenies, but they create a more hyper-sensitive community,” he said. “You have to remember to lock your car, your house, you might be more sensitive to when your dog barks.”
On Sept. 18, Oneonta Police arrested Keegan Allen, 22, a homeless man, following a report that someone had been rifling through cars on Hudson Street. Allen was located near the scene and, according to police, allegedly admitted to going through the cars.
And it wasn’t the first time.
According to Brenner, Allen also was arrested on July 31 for criminal possession of a controlled substance, on Aug. 12 for taking items from a vehicle, and on Aug. 20 for shoplifting, and was issued an appearance ticket for each.
“It’s sad,” said Brenner. “The base problem is substance abuse, and we can’t get him the help he needs.”
Under bail reform, bail cannot be set for such misdemeanors, even as they stack up, freeing the suspect to continue breaking the law.
“It’s a destructive cycle,” said Brenner. “Previously, a judge would have the discretion to look at him after his third time being arrested and say, ‘What’s really going on here?’ “He could send him to jail, where he might have access to services for mental health and substance abuse. A lot of time, jail is their first connection to things like medication or counseling, but it’s hard to help them find help without pushing them in.”
Allen was charged with petit larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and criminal possession of a controlled substance after he was allegedly found with a small amount of marijuana and prescription pills taken from one of the cars.
Once again, he was ticketed and released.
The same week, police also arrested Eric Meade, 26, after an investigation revealed that he had allegedly stolen a checkbook from a car and used it to forge a check.
Meade was also arrested by State Police for a similar crime in the Town of Oneonta after he allegedly went through unlocked cars, stealing change. Like Allen, he was issued a ticket and released.
Brenner said that since August, there have been 26 instances of items taken from unlocked cars in the city. “These are always crimes of opportunity,” he said. “Most of these guys are struggling with issues of mental illness or substance abuse.”
In addition to the rise in break-ins, Brenner said that, since March, police have seen a vast increase in heroin overdoses – so many, he said, that they had to order another box of Narcan.
“Last year we had one or two,” he said. “Since March, we’ve had 13. It’s sad, but it’s not unique. This is a national trend. It might be difficult for people to get quality services when they can’t meet in person.”
“We’ve seen a lot of people trying to connect to resources and care,” said Kyle LeFevre, Peer Services Coordinator, Friends of Recovery of Delaware-Otsego. “It’s difficult, but not impossible.”
Telehealth – offering counseling by phone or video chat – has also helped connect people with resources who might not feel comfortable attending an in-person meeting.
“There’s always someone out there who is going to need help,” he said.
Brenner said that police are trained to offer connections to mental health and substance abuse services when applicable.
“Most of the time, when we bring these guys in, they’re either suffering from the effects or they’re just coming off of them,” he said. “We can tell the court to refer them to services and try to help them, but sentencing could be weeks away – how many more break-ins can be done in that time? How many more substances can be abused?”