Sunday, March 3, 2002
Americans living in Naples urged to exercise caution, avoid home burglaries

By Ward Sanderson, Naples bureau
European edition, Sunday, February 17, 2002

Ward Sanderson / S&S
In November, Maily Bopp awoke to find a burglar in her home. The would-be thief left empty-handed, but Bopp worries about a return. "I can't be alone in my house," she says.

Protecting against burglars

  • Avoid housing with large picture windows that allow thieves to see inside.
  • Hide passports and other documents in your home.
  • Get a dog. Even a small dog can bark, alerting you that somethingís wrong ó and possibly scaring the burglar.
  • Keep doors and windows shut and/or locked. In the summer, keep shutters partially closed if you need a breeze.
  • Disguise boxes of new items, such as stereos and TVs, before disposing of the containers.

ó Naval Support Activity, Naples, public affairs
If burglars are in your home

  • Donít confront them. Many are illegal aliens and will do anything not to be deported.
  • Call military police. Make sure you can describe your whereabouts to the dispatcher.
  • Remember what the burglars looked like and wore.
  • Yell for police ó or "polizia" in Italian.

ó Naval Support Activity, Naples, public affairs

NAPLES, Italy ó It was around 5 a.m. when she awoke to the burglar.

At first, Maily Bopp thought the noise downstairs was her husband, an Army officer. But then, she thought, hadnít he already left the house?

She tried to drift off to sleep again, but the noise moved upstairs. Finally fully awake, she found herself staring a stranger in the face.

"I couldnít talk," she recalls now, four months later. "I couldnít even scream. I was in a panic."

Fortunately, the intruder left without a fight once he discovered someone was awake.

In recent years, the number of Americans in Naples who have had their homes broken into has risen. According to the U.S. Navy here, 173 cases of burglary were reported last year, down slightly from 193 cases in 2000, but significantly higher than 1999ís figure of 109 home break-ins.

Warm weather and holidays donít help, and though itís only February, the sun is already heating up the area. The base reported 17 burglaries since January.

"Spring is when everyone opens up their homes to air them out from the winter months," said Lt. j.g. Susan Henson, a Navy public affairs officer, in a prepared response to written questions. "They forget about security of their homes from last summer. Summer is, of course, the warm months when people open their homes to keep cool."

The Navy here says thieves look for items that are small enough to easily carry off ó jewelry, money, wallets, gas coupons, laptop computers. And the service also warns that thieves look for garage and vehicle keys so they can make their escapes via your car.

The Navy also recommends putting passports and other documents in secure spots ó even in your home ó and disguising the cartons of any electronic items you purchase, such as that brand-new TV, before throwing them out.

And officials advise residents living outside base gates to get dogs ó even small ones ó just so long as they bark.

In hot weather, residents should keep shutters down when the windows are open to provide a breeze. Thieves also look for secluded entrances that neighbors canít see.

And neighbors can foil burglars. Just ask Ron and Holli Haugen. The sailor and his wife didnít spot a burglar using their mailbox as a stepladder to scale a fence. But a neighbor did. The neighbor threatened the would-be intruder, and the suspect ran off.

In general, the military here discourages confronting thieves. Instead, make as much noise as possible and call out for police, officials recommend.

Henson advises burglary victims to call military security, and to make certain they can describe the whereabouts of their home to dispatchers.

One urban legend thatís been making a clamor may have some validity to it. Though the accounts usually come from a "friend of a friend," Americans here often tell tales of a gang of thieves using knock-out gas to immobilize residents before entering a house to fleece it.

Henson says there have been such reports, but none has been "medically confirmed." But, she said, in any case, the gangs are believed to made up of illegal aliens who could turn violent if confronted. "They will do anything to not get caught and are considered dangerous," she warned.

Italian media have reported that crime rings from Albania, in particular, are active in burglary and car-theft rings.

Fortunately, most burglars are nonviolent. According to the U.S. State Department, "Italy has a low rate of violent crime, little of which is directed toward tourists. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing, theft from parked cars and purse snatching, however, are serious problems, especially in large cities."

The Haugens believe thieves assume Americans are wealthy and well-insured.

"They feel itís a victimless crime," Holli says. "They donít understand Americans feel violated. But itís all part of the nature of the beast of living in Naples."

The Haugens moved into Navy-run housing after someone stole their 1988 purple Pontiac from in front of their former Italian address, and a local optometrist was robbed at gunpoint. The optometristís parking attendant was pistol-whipped.

The Haugens say they feel safer in government housing, and the Navy here hopes that the construction of more military housing can help curb the number of burglaries.

The Haugens say they are also more confident since learning more about local life.

"Either Iím going to adapt," Holli says, "or Iím going to be eaten up like everyone else."

Holli Haugen just happened to be the first person Maily Bopp telephoned after her break-in in November. "I was actually the first one on the scene," she says. She sped over at about "110 miles an hour."

But though her friends feel better, Bopp is still haunted by the memory of the burglar who broke through her kitchen door in November. She wants to move.

"I canít be alone in my house," she says.