Passaic, NJ – A cat burglar who has crept into about 10 city homes while people slept has sparked a neighborhood watch group and set off a police investigation into whether the incidents are related to similar break-ins in Clifton, police said.
Someone has broken into 10 homes in the 3rd Ward and in the northwest part of the city since April 13, said Detective Andy White. Purses, wallets and laptop computers were taken in the burglaries, which occurred at night or during early-morning hours, sometimes two and three per night, White said.
The last two occurred on Idaho Street either on Saturday night or early Sunday.
White said intruders have entered through windows and unlocked doors in the Passaic burglaries.
The break-ins are similar to four in Clifton that have occurred since April 15, and detectives are looking into whether they could have been committed by the same person. About 18 break-ins, including the cat burglaries, have occurred since mid-April. Police have stepped up patrols to address both, White said.
No one has been hurt.
The rash of burglaries has instilled fear in the Jewish community in Passaic’s 3rd Ward, sparking a neighborhood watch, said George Matyjewicz. He has been e-mailing community members to warn people to lock their doors and windows and to abate rumors that have been flying.
“The big concern is at what point does it become violent?” he said. “There’s young children in some cases. There are single women, so it is scary.”
Matyjewicz said victims have contacted him and that he’s tallied 14 cat burglaries since March.
One woman was sleeping on the couch in her home when a burglar entered and took a laptop and cash from her purse. The woman remained on the couch until she was alone.
“She did not get up, and when they left she started screaming,” Matyjewicz said.
He has been sending out e-mail blasts that have been posted on a blog.
Joshua Schwager of Passaic, acknowledging that police officers can’t be everywhere at once, said he is starting a neighborhood watch in the area.
“Any police department is not going to spend all day trying to find every little thing,” Schwager said. “It’s an extension of the eyes and ears of the police department.”
Schwager said the burglaries require an active response.
City Council President Gary Schaer said the Passaic Police Department promised to increase patrols in the area that has been targeted.
“I think human reaction is to be scared,” Schaer said. “Burglaries are invasive. My house was burglarized 25 years ago when we first moved into town. Some of those that have taken place are frightening.”
Police in Clifton also are searching for a man who they believe has broken into four homes since April 15, startling the homeowner in the latest incident, authorities said.
The man tried to sneak into a house on Madison Avenue just before 2 a.m. Thursday. The homeowner, a 45-year-old woman, was asleep on the couch, and scared away the burglar by screaming when she saw him halfway through her window, police said.
Police urge residents to make sure their windows and doors are locked and to turn on their alarm systems. Investigators also ask victims not to confront a burglar.