Recent break-ins likely tied with drug crime, undersheriff says

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A recent spate of break-ins and attempted break-ins to storage facilities around Lincoln County has citizens concerned, while law enforcement sees the crimes as part of the bigger picture of drug use in the community.

After a Troy storage facility reported a break-in April 27, there were three separate incidents in Libby on May 1, three more in Libby on May 2 and an attempted break-in at a unit on Highway 56 on May 4.

Lincoln County Undersheriff Brandon Huff said property crimes tend to be cyclical with drug supply.

“Property crimes go up when meth enters the community and we did recently see an influx of methamphetamine,” he said. “We had a lot of vehicle crimes recently as well, and once we are on to those, people tend to move to other targets like storage units.”

Cherie and Steve Johnson, who own Vintage Collectable Treasures in Libby, were victims of three separate break-ins, one in March and two in April, at two units at Mac’s Market.

“We lost a lot of stuff we had for the store,” Cherie Johnson said. “They took all the good stuff, which suggests they knew what they were doing. One unit they came back and robbed again a few weeks after the first break-in, so they must have liked what they found.”

Cherie Johnson conceded that the units didn’t have security features such as cameras or lighting. She said they now store their goods at a facility that has these features to prevent future losses.

A lack of security features and an often remote or industrial location make storage units a target for theft, Huff said.

“Storage units are soft targets in that they are often unattended, and there is often a delay between the report of the crime and an investigation,” he said. “These people are looking for anything that can be pawned, sold or traded and can’t easily be traced by a serial number, so small dollar items like those found in a storage unit are desirable.”

Bill Miller, owner at BDM Mini Storage in Libby, has not experienced any break-ins this year, possibly owing to his security efforts.

“Our units are very well lit,” he said. “Our lighting is quite impressive. We also have someone who lives right next door, so that helps deter people too.”

After a rash of break-ins about 12 years ago, Mark Turk, owner at Mountain Mini Storage, started advising his clients to get the kind of lock that is hard to cut through without a grinder.

“Those big round shielded locks are a good investment at about $15,” he said. “I’ve had to cut them when people have lost their keys and it takes me about 15 minutes with a grinder.” Turk also uses bright lights as a theft deterrent at his facility, and has had no break-ins this year.

“Finding the perpetrators of storage unit theft often happens as law enforcement make drug arrests and find stolen items in the process,” Huff said.

Anyone with any information regarding property theft should contact Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department at 406-293-4112.

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