Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Police boost patrols after spate of burglaries

Residents asked to report suspicious activity after 92 break-ins since end of year

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County police are responding with increased patrols in four communities after a rash of residential burglaries since the end of the year and asking residents to do their part in stemming daytime break-ins.

‘‘My concern is we’re having an areawide problem, and it doesn’t seem to be drying up no matter how many arrests we make,” said Lt. Robert Carter, a deputy commander at the Third District station on Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring. ‘‘We have to let everyone know this is an area-wide problem and that there are things they can do to help.”

The burglaries, about 92, have occurred generally between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the Fairland, White Oak, Springbrook and Burtonsville areas with a higher concentration in the Saddle Creek, White Oak, Snowden’s Mill and East Springbrook neighborhoods.

Carter said he’s ‘‘sounding the alarm” to make residents in those east county communities more aware of the trend and enlist their help.

‘‘If you don’t count weekends, that’s 1.5 burglaries a day and that’s way too many to me,” he said.

Burglars are targeting townhouses, single-family homes and apartments. Entry methods vary, and items stolen include flat-screen televisions, video game systems, video games, DVD players, laptop computers, cash and change, county police said.

There is ‘‘no rhyme or reason” to why the area is being targeted, Carter said, adding that burglars run the gamut from working in teams to working alone. They’re young and older, career criminals and first-time opportunists, and are coming from nearby and from as far away as Baltimore, he said.

Items taken are generally easy to carry and conceal, with the exception of flat-screen televisions.

‘‘Certainly, they’re easily pawned, sold to friends or on the street,” said Officer Melanie Hadley, a spokeswoman for county police. ‘‘There’s lots of ways to unload these items.”

Hadley said police have increased patrols in the area, but asked for the public’s help in stemming the trend.

‘‘We have a lot of presence in those areas and we’re on the lookout for anyone suspicious,” she said. ‘‘Between saturation patrols and help from the public, we hope we’ll be able to make some arrests.”

Barry Wides, president of the North White Oak Civic Association, said residents in his community know their neighbors and do report suspicious activity, but many aren’t around when the burglaries occur.

‘‘I don’t think it’s that people aren’t reporting crime, it’s that people who commit [burglaries] know when it’s best to do,” he said.

He said several factors could contribute to the problem, including light sentences for burglars and the area’s access to nearby highways.

Regardless of the reasons, Wides said residents need to be aware of crime trends.

‘‘The important thing is residents should be vigilant, call police when about suspicious activity and talk to the civic association about starting neighborhood watches,” he said.

Robert Bartol, who monitors crime trends as a member of the Greater Colesville Civic Association, said while there have been some incidents in the area, he hasn’t seen a large number of burglaries in his communities and is wary of creating a panic.

‘‘What we’re trying to avoid is alarming people. If the numbers show a big increase, then we’d respond to it,” he said. ‘‘There’s crime, no question of it. You worry about it, but at the same time you can’t wave a red flag because you cause panic.”

Tips to avoid burglaries

Lock all exterior doors. Doorknob locks offer little security. All exterior doors should have deadbolts.

Consider buying a monitored alarm system.

Place lighting such as floodlights and motion sensors on all four corners of the home’s exterior.

Do not leave windows open when the home is unoccupied. Check windows and sliding doors for proper locking mechanisms or install security arm-bar on sliding doors.

Keep shrubbery trimmed and below window sills.

Do not leave curtains or shades open or valuables in the open.

Do not keep large sums of cash.

Keep lights on timers and have a neighbor bring in newspapers and mail while you’re away.

Make sure your house number is visible.

Call police at 301-279-8000 if you see suspicious activity.

Source: Montgomery County POlice Department