BY YEVGENIY TRAPEZNIKOV
“They’d walk around the neighborhood and knock on the doors. Once they realize that no one is at home, they’d attempt entrance,” said a city’s crime analyst, describing typical burglar behavior.
According to statistics provided by Takoma Park police there were 31 burglaries during three months this summer, a 24-percent increase over the same period last year.
Andrew Gucciardo, Takoma Park Police crime analyst, said that perpetrators mostly targeted residential single-family homes in the area city police refer to as “Beat 1” – the western part of Takoma Park, particularly rich in shrubbery and trees.
“I have cut every single bush around the house and installed seven motion detector lights,” said one victim, target of at least four burglary attempts.
The victim, who prefers not to be identified, said that “whoever it was” stole two bikes from a shed, then apparently returned a week later. They left the shed’s door ajar.
Map from Takoma Park city manager Brian Kenner’s recent quarterly report. Burglaries committed in a 30-day period in Oct/Nov are shown in Takoma Park (roughly indicated in red) and surrounding jurisdictions. The report says “burglary increased for this quarter as compared to last year but is still 11% below the five year average. Burglary trends are occurring regionally and not just within the City limits. . . . . Surrounding jurisdictions have experienced similar criminal activity.”
Julia Borland, a Takoma Park resident, was targeted twice this year. First in April she lost her MacBook Pro. The laptop was taken from her car in a driveway. Second, in September her house on Holly Avenue near the elementary school was burglarized by unknown perpetrators. She lost her replacement MacBook Pro again. In less than six months, Borland lost property worth over $2000.
“Last time,” Borland said, “they were very careful about taking all the cables and accessories.”
Larry Robinson, Borland’s companion, whose laptop was also stolen that day, said “it seemed like it was deliberate targeting of the equipment. Nothing in the house indicated that criminals were seeking something else.”
City police view last summer’s burglary rate as “significant.” In addition to the 24-percent increase in summer crime, the burglary rate for the first eight months of 2013 saw an 87-percent rise compared with the previous year figures.
A Montgomery County district, bordering Takoma Park, has the highest burglary count in the county.
Preliminary 2013 crime data for Silver Spring, provided by the county police, showed an increase in the number of burglaries – 15.5 percent as compared with the same period of 2012.
“This is a burglary district,” said Clifton Burrell, a county police crime analyst, comparing the county’s southeastern section to another two districts in the county – Rockville and Bethesda.
The officer said the Silver Spring district has been dealing with traditionally high burglary rates for at least a decade.
“You would be surprised to know how many people regularly leave their car doors unlocked,” said Gucciardo, speaking about the Takoma Park’s most serious nuisance, thefts from cars. “One of the suspects interrogated said that he was just walking from car to car checking door handles.”
Home burglaries were similar. Criminals looking through windows see property such as laptops in plain view before attempting entrance, said the officer.
Although police listed breaking windows, tampering with locks, and “unknown means” of entry, most of the time burglars simply walk in through an unlocked front or side door. In summertime residents also frequently leave windows open.
City police notify Takoma Park residents of crimes and also give safety advice. Police urge homeowners to keep doors locked at night as well as whenever leaving their house or car.
Police recommend preventing burglary by locking doors, closing windows, cutting shrubbery, getting a dog and installing video surveillance system.
“They try to avoid houses with dogs and surveillance signs,” said both Gucciardo and Burrell after scrutinizing criminal behavior patterns.
In front of Julia Borland’s house, however, there was a sign indicating that the residence was “under surveillance.” It did not stop the intruders, who apparently used the front door, as it was found ajar when Borland returned.
Officer Burrell said that criminals usually kick in the rear or side door to get into a residence. Although he recommended surveillance cameras as a good deterrent, Burrell said that it could not totally prevent the crime.
According to Burrell, it takes criminals about 5-7 minutes commit a robbery. Considering such swiftness, perpetrators sometimes do not pay any mind to cameras which, nevertheless, help police quickly identify criminals in the aftermath, said Burrell.
After three attempts in less than three months, the bike-theft victim got a 60-pound dog.
“We thought that now we have a dog, why would they break in?” he said.
On a late-September weeknight, when he was watching TV, his dog began howling and rushing around the house.
After a short while, he let the dog outside. It ran out sniffing the air. It was not until his wife returned home half an hour later when they discovered that her Apple laptop was missing. Again, as in Borland’s case, the vanished property and slightly ajar door were the only signs of burglars.
MacBook Pros, well known for their slick design and extremely light weight, are popular among burglars, who seem to appreciate effortless handling no less than the device’s lawful owners.
Gucciardo described Apple laptops as “easy to throw in the backpack,” which burglars use to carry their loot.
However, Silver Spring burglars were able to swiftly leave a house unnoticed with a 30-inch flat screen TV set.
Officer Burrell said that with a baggy jacket and dexterity, a criminal could hide even that bulky object under his clothes.
While Apple products are common targets, other items targeted include laptops of different brands, DVD players, tablets, check books, cash, jewelry and even some ID papers like birth certificates.
City police said they were able to retrieve illicitly sold items from local pawnshops. Sometimes stolen property was sold “on the streets” or suspects went to neighboring counties to sell the stolen property – hampering the search for criminals and retrieval of the items.
Criminals also use the legitimate online sites Craigslist and Ebay to sell their loot, said Gucciardo.
Who, When and Why?
According to police reports, the majority of burglaries happened when residents were not in their houses.
Data from both police stations – city and county – indicated that the criminals were most likely to strike during work hours – from 8-9 a.m. and around afternoon.
Most common weekdays were Tuesday and Friday, according to city police.
For Takoma Park the peak season was summer, August having the highest rates.
Chart from Takoma Park city manager Brian Kenner’s recent quarterly report showing overall decrease in crime, but an increase over last year’s burglary statistics.
However, in Silver Spring with its interstate highway, proximity to D.C., large population and overall size, crime was much more frequent. Officer Burrell said burglary rates depend on how warm the weather was in a particular month.
In both city and county burglars were usually performed by men ranging in their age from 20 to 30.
Officer Burrell listed unemployment and drugs as most likely reasons to drive people to committing crime.
In Takoma Park supporting drug habits was also cited by police as one of the major causes. But Gucciardo was less inclined to blame the current economic situation.
“Some people may think that recession and concurrent employment issues cause more crime. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, the crime goes down. Even though burglary is up compared to the past summer, overall crime has dropped by about three percent,” said officer Gucciardo.