By Mark E. Vogler
---- — METHUEN — Police say burglary suspect Michael Robillard got caught again by the K-9 unit acting on a citizen’s tip that he was trying to break into another home in the city’s west end.
Robillard, 25, of 1 Bean St., who police say may be involved in several other house breaks to support a drug habit, fled into the woods from a Moffett Street house Wednesday night after the homeowner heard him jiggling the door knob to the rear entrance.
“I thought it was my wife coming home early,” the homeowner said in an interview.
“I opened the door, and there was a strange guy standing at the back door. When I confronted him, he gave me a story about going around the neighborhood, knocking on peoples’ doors saying his dog was missing and asking for permission to look through people’s yards,” he said.
“But I could tell he was lying. He didn’t knock on the door and he came to the back door. I pretty much told him I didn’t believe him and told him, ‘I’m calling the cops and it’s probably in your best interests to get out of here.’ So, he ran out into the woods,” the homeowner recalled.
Soon after the neighbor called emergency 911, Dunkin, a 7-year-old female Dutch Shepherd and her handler officer Jeff Torrisi, were at the backdoor, trying to pick up the trail to capture the suspect.
“It seemed like something out of CSI,” the homeowner said, referring to the popular CBS crime drama TV series.
“The officer brought him to the back door and let him sniff around, pick up the scent and go off into the woods. It was pretty impressive, especially when they caught the guy. Great job by the Methuen police. This is a good resource for our town to have,” he said.
Dunkin tracked Robillard’s scent through the woods to a home on Bean Street where he has been living with his girlfriend, according to police.
Robillard, who was taking a shower, was arrested and charged with attempted breaking and entering.
He’s no stranger to the K-9 unit, which captured him a year ago after a half-hour foot chase from the scene of a house burglary on Benefit Street. Police and angry citizens helped run him down after an observant neighbor heard the sound of breaking glass and saw a man carrying a bag out of an unattended house.
The K-9 unit, which includes another dog – Reicko, an 8-year-old male German Shepherd handled by Officer Christine Nicholosi – is one of the department’s most effective crime-fighting tools in catching fleeing burglars.
“When it comes to tracking people down, the dogs are significantly better than a human,” said Sgt. Mike Havey, who supervises the K-9 unit.
“This is a good example of when the police and the citizens work together. Good citizen cooperation allows us to be successful,” said Sgt. Havey, who estimates that both dogs are deployed about 12 to 15 times a year in tracking house burglars.
Dunkin is trained for narcotics as well as patrol. Reicko is used exclusively as a patrol dog. The dogs and their handlers received special training at the Boston Police Training facility. Police use them in tracking down shoplifters, car break suspects and capturing suspects in other more serious crimes.
The Moffett Street home owner said he was impressed with the swift action by Dunkin and Officer Torrisi.
“They called me back later and said they have him. Great job. I think they found him within 20 minutes,” the homeowner said.
Police Chief Joseph Solomon and other police officials credited the homeowner with playing a key role in assisting police.
“The caller did the right thing by getting a good description of the guy and calling the police right away,” said Capt. Kris McCarthy, who oversees detective and firearms licenses.
“We immediately got out there and set a perimeter between Lowell and North Lowell streets as the dog attempted to track, and she was able to track (Robillard) right back to the house where he was in the shower,” McCarthy said.
“He (Robillard) admitted to being present at the house, but denied trying to break in. He said he was trying to locate a missing dog. We didn’t believe it,” he said.
Chief Solomon said citizen assistance in helping to solve residential burglaries and other crimes is invaluable to local police.
“We can’t be everywhere 24-7 (hours a day). So, citizens who see things and call really help,” Chief Solomon said.
“We always tell residents ‘Keep your eyes open and if you see something suspicious, do call. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be anything, it’s best to err on the side of caution. But we don’t want citizens to get actively involved and put themselves at risk. We really discourage that,” the chief said.
The Moffett Street homeowner said he appreciated the quick police response, but is taking additional measures to protect his property.
A series of house breaks in the city’s west end over the fall prompted him to apply for a gun license, he said.
“I applied for a gun permit because I don’t want to be a victim,” he said.
“A couple of months from now, it could be a completely different scenario. The guy who tries to break into my house could be staring down the barrel of a gun,” he said.
“Most of the neighbors already have guns. We all look out for each other’s houses,” he said.
Capt. McCarthy said he’s noticed an increase in gun permits issued in recent year. The city averages about 100 renewals and new ones each month for the six-year licenses.
“We have a ton of them (gun permits). We have an officer assigned to licensing, which tells you how many there are. Some like the protection,” he said.
“When it comes to responding to crime, we appreciate any help from the public as long as it is in a safe manner. A lot of policing is reactive is to the general public making an initial observation of the crime. We get a ton of help every day, and this is another example from that,” he said.