Bryan County has been hit with a rash of home burglaries since January.
As a result, local law enforcement is encouraging residents to secure homes and vehicles and to report suspicious behavior in the area.
There have been nearly three dozen home burglaries since the beginning of the year, and about as many entering autos as well.
South Bryan County has been hit the hardest with about a dozen home burglaries reported. There have been approximately eight each in North Bryan County and in the city of Pembroke. The city of Richmond Hill was affected the least, with around six home burglaries.
Most are forced entry through either a broken window or kicked-in door -- and jewelry and electronics is most commonly stolen.
Much of the burglaries or entering autos have occurred in the southernmost part of the county, with seven of them near or on Cartertown Road.
Other areas seeing an increase in crime include Buckhead, Belfast Keller, Richmond Place, Sterling Creek, southside Pembroke and the vicinity of I-16 and 204.
Most of the crimes remain unsolved, but there have been several arrests on both ends of the county.
Investigators say several people have been arrested in neighboring counties who are strongly suspected of being involved in some of the recent Bryan burglaries.
As for what has led to the increase, authorities haven’t narrowed it down to one particular reason, but there are several theories."The economy is going down, and thefts are going up. It’s just that simple," said South Bryan County detective Mickey Sands, citing drugs as a contributing factor as well.
Pembroke interim police Chief Stacy Strickland said the economy certainly plays a part, but attributes much of it to urban sprawl.
"Our population is rapidly growing, and a lot of people are moving here from bigger cities," Strickland said. "And they’re bringing with them the things they’ve done elsewhere to small town America."
North Bryan detective Donnie Thomas said there is "definitely some increased activity with home burglaries recently," but points to increased drug activity as the main contributor.
Thomas said two out of the three recent home burglaries he has solved this year have been drug related, with the other being a juvenile who stole a jar of change from a residence.
RHPD Capt. Mike Albritton said the number of home burglaries in the city of Richmond Hill are about equal to what they were this time last year. Entering auto crimes are on the rise, with 26 reported so far this year, but 14 were committed in one night in Piercefield subdivision.
Two teens were charged for that spree.
The Myers family, who live in the Kinsale subdivision in Richmond Hill near Fort MacAllister, were reportedly robbed in January while they were at a basketball game.
Among the items reported stolen was a safe containing a loaded 9 millimeter gun and $10,000.
"My husband and son came home first and found the house ransacked," said home owner Barbara Myers. "It’s not just the monetary loss – you just feel so violated. I’m sure we’ll get over this in time, but it was devastating to me and my family and forced us to rethink everything."
Myers said she is disappointed in the fact that the sheriff’s department has not established any leads. She also said there is one positive note to the crime.
"It has caused us and many of our neighbors to be more aware and on alert," Myers said. "Many of them regularly left their doors unlocked. I don’t think they’ll be doing that anymore."
Myers said she recently had an alarm system put in.
Sands said alarm systems are a huge deterrent for home burglaries. He said only one of the recent burglaries in his district had alarms – and the individual who broke in came away with nothing as the individual ran off when the alarm sounded. He said residents can usually get a break in their home insurance by installing alarms, which could offset the cost a bit.
What else can residents do to protect their property? Here are a few tips from local police:
- leave exterior lights on during the night
- be vigilant about locking the doors to your home and vehicle
- record serial numbers and even take photographs of your most valuable property
- call 911 when observing any suspicious behavior, such as an unfamiliar vehicle driving slow while looking at homes
- do not leave valuables in your vehicle; if you do, keep them out of plain sight
Several organized actions have spurred from recent activity. Sterling Creek just had a neighborhood watch meeting at the police department. There is talk of the Buckhead community doing the same.
In Pembroke, the police department has beefed up traffic enforcement and is taking down names of every suspicious individual. Also, Chief Strickland said the PPD has just launched a neighborhood protective objective to concentrate on "neighbors looking after neighbors." He said 25 residents have signed up so far.
Strickland said this has drastically reduced burglaries in the city. For more information, call 653-4414.