Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Resident watchdogs can reduce burglaries

Laurie Wink
The News-Dispatch
Burglary refers to unlawful entry of a home, business or other place with intent to commit a crime. Usually, no one is present when a burglary occurs unlike robbery, which involves the use of force or fear to get someone's property. Burglars often act alone, Neitzel said, and sometimes small groups of juveniles act as a team. Flat-screen TVs are hot items now because they are light-weight and easy to sell for a hefty price. "Unfortunately, most people have them in the living room, facing the front of the house," Neitzel said, making them easy for burglars to spot.Neitzel said the best way to head off burglaries is to have an active neighborhood watch group with people who will call police when they see something unusual. Officers would rather check out a situation and find out everything is OK than not be called, Neitzel said."Pay attention to what goes on at the neighbor's house and report it to law enforcement," he said. "We've made some arrests where members of the public should have had a red flag and never called the department." Assistant Chief John Kintzele agreed successful arrests are made when people in the neighborhood make calls."The odds of a patrolman knowing someone is not in the right place is like hitting the lottery," he said.George Neagu, president of the Village Green Neighborhood Association, said Village Green has ranked among the top safest neighborhoods in Michigan City since he organized the group in 2003. "I felt we could do more as a group than as individuals," Neagu said. "We encourage more talking with each other in the neighborhood. We work really hard at that."He said Village Green residents value the neighborhood and feel part of it.Rich Murphy, president of the Elston Grove Neighborhood Association, said residents communicate directly to Sgt. Chris Yagelski, who attends monthly neighborhood association meetings and has a strong relationship with the community. "Residents understand they are the eyes and ears of the community," Murphy said. "The police can't do it all by themselves." Murphy said the Elston Grove residents have talked about the recent increase of burglaries in Michigan City and about ways to prevent them."Much of the prevention is common sense," Murphy said, running down a list of actions including: locking doors and windows; documenting serial numbers on property; and, most important, calling the police or the crime tip hotline when a resident sees something suspicious.Kintzele recommends calling police if someone knocks on the door and asks for a person you don't know, or offers to rake leaves but doesn't have a rake. They're trying to find out if anyone is home, he said. "About a third of burglaries are done by people who've visited your place," Kintzele said. To be prepared in case of a burglary, police advise homeowners to keep records of makes, models and serial numbers of their items and, if possible, to videotape them for later identification. Kintzele recommends filing out warranty cards included with big ticket items because manufacturers keep the information on file. Pawn shops in Michigan City are required by law to fax a daily list of items received to the police department so they can be compared with burglary reports. Having the necessary identification information improves the odds that items will be recovered. "If the information is there, it gives us the best chance to return items to the owner," Neitzel said. "There are times when we recover something but don't know who it belongs to." The pawn shop lists can help police identify burglars if the same name continues to come up. Neitzel is confident that most burglars will eventually get caught."You don't commit crimes repeatedly and not get caught," he said. "The percentage is high of being caught if they repeatedly do what they do, or if something leads us to them."