Sunday, January 31, 2010

Burglaries increase, but rapid pace slows

POSTED: January 30, 2010
number of homes, garages and other buildings broken into increased by 35 percent last year, but Columbiana County Sheriff Ray Stone said the pace has slowed considerably since they were able to make some arrests.
According to the sheriff's office annual report for 2009, a total of 309 homes, garages and storage buildings were broken into last year, up from 203 in 2008. Approximately 250 of the 309 burglarized structures were homes.
Stone said the county was victimized by three major burglary rings last year, two of which were operating in Elkrun, Fairfield and Middleton townships. He said these burglar rings were broken up with the arrest and indictment of five suspects, whose cases are still pending in county Common Pleas Court. This group is believed to have been involved in 30 to 40 burglaries alone.
The third burglary ring operated in Knox Township, and Stone said they are about ready to seek indictments for the suspects involved in those crimes.
Stone said the number of burglaries dropped significantly after they solved the cases and began making arrests.
"If you noticed, there haven't been a lot of burglaries the last two months. There have been some, but nothing like before," he said.
All three groups followed the same pattern: They would stop at homes in rural areas during the daytime, and would break in, usually through the back door, if no one was found home. All of the crimes were drug-related, with the suspects either selling stolen items at area pawnshops and using the money to purchase heroin, or simply trading the items with drug dealers for heroin.
Stone said it doesn't help that the sheriff's office historically has been understaffed. A Morning Journal survey showed the sheriff's office has half the number of staff compared to the six Ohio counties closest in size.
"It's a common fact that a patrol car going by can deter crime. Unfortunately, we're a reactive department instead of a proactive department, and that's due to the manpower shortage," he said.
When time and staff do allow it, Stone said he has assigned deputies to patrol specific areas, which is what he did during the rash of burglaries in Knox Township.
The annual report showed department dispatchers handled 42,374 calls in 2009, an increase of 27 percent. Stone was as a loss to explain the increase, other than to suggest perhaps as unemployment rises there are more people at home to report suspicious behavior. Coincidentally, the number of complaints arising from these calls also increased by 27 percent, from 3,472 to 4,424.
Approximately 3,689 people were processed at the county jail last year, up 27 percent from 2,900 in 2008. Of the people processed, 510 were for felonies and the rest on misdemeanors.
There was also a whopping 126 percent increase in the number of trespassing complaints, from 46 to 104. Stone attributed this to the growing popularity of ATVs.
"We're getting a lot of four-wheeler calls about people driving on other people's property. We had a bad year for that," he said. Hunting on private property without permission is also a major source of trespassing complaints.
Sheriff's sales involving foreclosed properties dropped by 10 percent, from 545 to 490, reducing the fees generated by these sales from $103,323 to $77,019.

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