Queen Creek business owners and residents menaced by increasingly brazen thieves gathered this week to commiserate, exchange e-mails and search for solutions.
The group, which included officers from the Maricopa and Pinal County sheriff’s offices, didn’t settle on any concrete measures or resolutions to combat the rising banditry, but it agreed to start meeting on a monthly basis.
Mark Schnepf of Schnepf Farms, who moderated the meeting Tuesday at the Queen Creek Library, called the gathering a good start.
“I think we laid the foundation for a community-wide effort that will ultimately have some very good results,” he said.
The losses business owners say they’ve seen over the years are staggering by any measure, let alone to mom-and-pop operations.
Bartling Enterprises, an automobile services and repair shop near Scotland Court and Ocotillo Road, said it has lost up to $90,000. Highland Homes, a builder in the area, said it has lost about $250,000 through theft and vandalism over the years.
And Painter’s Auto Body, also near Scotland Court and Ocotillo Road, has lost at least $40,000 from burglaries, said Bradley Booth, an employee.
“If we sat down and started totaling it up, we’d probably be $40,000, $50,000, maybe even $60,000 (in losses),” he said Wednesday.
Frustration was palpable among business owners.
Ben Lyman, a superintendent for Highland, said the company tried several kinds of security options, including hiring guards and buying portable alarms with global positioning technology to track stolen property.
“We’ve just really felt helpless,” he said. “We’ve done all kinds of things to try and catch these guys.”
Many business owners complained about the law’s inability to catch and convict the bad guys.
Reflecting on the meeting later, Booth expressed disappointment.
“Personally what I got from it was, ‘It’s the owner’s fault that we’re getting broken into and there’s nothing the police can do,’” he said. “That’s what I came walking away (with).”
Lt. Mike Mitchell from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office told the group it has to have realistic expectations of law enforcement. He explained the office has only five full-time officers dedicated in the area. MCSO provides Queen Creek with law enforcement services as the town has no police department of its own.
Officers said business owners can take proactive actions to protect their property including installing good lighting, copying serial numbers on expensive equipment and getting rid of bushes, which can obstruct a property’s view and provide cover for burglars.
Andrew Good, an investigator with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, said the moves are about making it hard on the criminals.
“(If) you take away that opportunity, you take away the possibility that that crime is going to be committed,” he said.
Town manager John Kross, who wasn’t able to attend, said before the meeting that statistics show property crimes decreasing in the area.
“Talking with our counterparts in Gilbert and Mesa, they’re seeing the same trends, which is overall very good news in terms of it going down,” he said. “That doesn’t diminish what individual business owners might experience, and we take all that extremely seriously.”
Schnepf, who said he’s been hit eight times since October, believes the thefts are drug-related. He said a group is stealing property and then selling it.
He has proposed to other business owners that everyone chip in to offer a reward for the arrest and conviction of the burglars. Schnepf Farms has already put up a $5,000 reward.