May 12, 2010 - A man breaks into an Ortonville Road gas station to steal cigarettes, Feb. 23. March 2, a woman walks into a Main Street convenience store and steals three bottle of vodka. April 3, a man steals nine bottles of booze from the same store.
Investigators suspect out-of-towners in dozens of cases like these throughout the area, and at an increasing rate.
According to Independence Township substation reports, residents and business owners reported 120 burglaries and thefts in the first three months of this year, up from 71 in the first quarter of 2009, a 69 percent increase. In all categories, crime is up about 28 percent, said Lt. Dale LaBair, commander of Independence Township substation, Oakland County Sheriff's Office.
"It's a huge spike – I haven't seen breaking and entering like this in a long time," LaBair said. "They come from all over the place, Flint, Detroit, Pontiac. This is where the money is."
"There's nothing left to rob in the cities anymore," said Det. Bill Baldwin. "In urban areas, stores have bullet proof glass. Here, they're open – there's a sense of safety. It easier pickings for them."
LaBair sees the local and national econommic conditions as a major reason for the spike.
"It's pretty directly correlated to the economy," he said.
Funded through a 2.01-2.05 police millage since 2004, the economy also cuts the substation's budget. As property value falls, so does tax revenue.
The substation has 28 deputies, down from 31 last year.
"Everyone has to step up," LaBair said.
The substation is set to lose at least one more deputy based on millage vote results this August. Independence Township residents will vote on a 2.0547 millage renewal, plus an additional 0.8953 mill, for a total of 2.95 mills.
Township Finance Director Sue Hendricks recommended 3.306 mills to keep maintain police services.
If voters approve the millage renewal but turn down the proposed increased, the substation would cut 12-16 deputies. If both are rejected, the substation would close, with police service provided from Pontiac.
"If the increase goes down, funding would fall to 1992 levels," LaBair said. "It would be a tough hit."
"If we cut more than 10, we'd be digging deep," said Det. Sgt. Matt Baldes.
Cuts would affect investigation and crime-pervention efforts, LaBair said.
"I don't see cuts affecting core services, but it would affect followup," he said. "Investigation would falter some."
Changes to the township since 1992 include about a third more people, many living in apartments, with a wider range of income and lifestyle.
The substation gets more than 13,000 calls per year. In the first three months of this year, the substation received about 3,700.
"Deputies go to each one," LaBair said.
The substation's budget of $3.9 million this year includes about $200,000 from its $680,781 fund balance. The last time it was fully funded by its millage was 2008, LaBair said.
A 2.95 millage would cost taxpayers about a quarter extra per day, LaBair said.
"People decide what they want to spend money on," LaBair said. "We look at them as a referendum on how we're doing. We try to spend money well – we keep things pretty basic."
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.