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Residential burglaries up by 26%, Washington County Sheriff's Office says

January 08, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Sheriff's Office has experienced a 26 percent increase in residential burglaries, a trend that is largely fueled by drug addiction and is being increasingly committed by groups of people from other jurisdictions, sometimes as far away as Frederick County, Va., a department investigator said.

The groups have also been from Jefferson and Berkeley counties in West Virginia, Frederick County, Md., and from within Washington County, said Cpl. Detective Greg Alton.

From November 2009 to December 2010, 286 burglaries were reported to the sheriff's office, Alton said.

From November 2010 to December 2011, 362 burglaries were reported to the sheriff's office, an increase of 26 percent, Alton said.

Jewelry, electronics and cash are among the items most frequently taken by burglars, Alton said.

Alton said many of the burglaries are committed by people who are addicted to drugs, such as prescription medications and heroin.

No one part of the county is being targeted over another, although the southern area was hit hard at one point, Alton said.

"It's been all over the county," said an investigator with the Hagerstown barracks of the Maryland State Police. State police, however, have noticed a slight reduction in burglaries, said Lt. Thomas Woodward.

Woodward said one reason the sheriff's office receives a lot of burglary reports is that the department covers a lot of territory in the county.

Alton said he used November for his reporting times because November 2010 was when the sheriff's department first noticed a spike in burglaries committed by groups.

Since November 2010, the sheriff's department has arrested people from six different groups who were involved in break-ins, Alton said.

In addition to hitting locations in Washington County, the groups were committing burglaries in Frederick, Montgomery, Howard and Carroll counties in Maryland, and Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties in West Virginia, Alton said.

They also were operating in Frederick County, Va., and elsewhere in Virginia, Alton said.

Investigators in Berkeley County, W.Va., also noticed an increase in the last several months of people moving in from different counties to commit burglaries, said Lt. Gary Harmison of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

"They don't like to burglarize their own backyard, that's the main thing," Harmison said.

Every other month, police from West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania have met to compare notes to see if they can link any of the burglaries, Harmison said.

The Hagerstown Police Department has witnessed a "small percentage" increase in burglaries, said Detective Sgt. Jim Hurd.

Hurd said the burglaries are spread throughout the city, and a lot of electronic equipment is being stolen. Homes are mostly being targeted, he said, and burglars are entering those that are unlocked or forcing their way inside through windows and doors.


Tips for homeowners

Following are some tips homeowners can follow to protect themselves against burglaries, according to Cpl. Detective Greg Alton of the Washington County Sheriff's Office:

  • Install deadbolts on doors. Make sure the locks are opened by a key from the inside and outside. Otherwise, burglars can break a glass, reach in and open the locks from the inside.
  • Never leave doors and windows unlocked.
  • Many times, neighbors see suspicious activity around a house and attempt to call the homeowner, losing precious time. Always call police first.
  • Record serial numbers of valuables such as electronics and firearms, and keep the numbers in a safe place in case they are needed for investigations. Make sure you can provide a good description of jewelry and take photographs of it.

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