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Burglaries alarm local residents
Authorities say increase is due to economy
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There have been a number of burglaries inside the city limits recently, including this neighborhood off Chestatee Road. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
Gainesville resident Ani Pierce thinks it’s a good time to be in the alarm business.

Pierce became a victim of burglary recently when someone broke into a basement sliding glass door and stole firearms from her northwest Gainesville home. The break-in happened after Gainesville police announced the arrest of two men believed responsible for a string of burglaries near where she lives.

This week four other burglary suspects were arrested by Gainesville police, including boys ages 14, 12, and 11.

But much to the frustration of some Gainesville residents, even as arrests are announced, the burglaries continue.

“It’s still going on,” Pierce said. “They still haven’t gotten the ones who hit my house.”

Like other recent victims, Pierce is having a burglar alarm installed in her home this week. “The alarm companies are going to make a lot of money off us,” she said.

Through the end of September, burglaries in the Gainesville city limits were up 38 percent from the first nine months of 2008, officials say.

There were 261 burglaries from January through September of this year, compared with 189 during the same time span in 2008. The number of break-ins this month will likely be down from last month, Lt. Carol Martin said.

In the city limits, neighborhoods north of Green Street seem to be hardest hit.

Hall County has reported similar increases in home and commercial break-ins. Officials say the economy and high unemployment is the main reason property crime is one the rise.

“We were expecting an upward trend,” Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper said. “It’s not just in Gainesville, but chiefs in other cities, we’re all pretty much seeing an increase in theft. We’re kind of living in unprecedented times.”

Even in the best of economic times, burglaries happen almost every day in a county with a population the size of Hall’s. But when homes all around a neighborhood are being hit, it can trigger alarm in residents.

“At this point, I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own home,” said Sherry Schlereth, who has heard through the grapevine about several break-ins on streets close to her Longstreet Hills home. “You get where you don’t feel comfortable leaving your home.”

Schlereth is concerned she’s not getting more official information about burglaries close to home.

Police say the best way to keep informed on crime where you live is to form a neighborhood watch and keep it active. Police will alert watch captains to new crimes in their neighborhoods with e-mails or phone calls, and the captains spread the word. It is impossible, police say, to notify every neighborhood resident about every crime that occurs on their street.

Conversely, neighborhood watch captains keep in contact with their police liaisons and notify them of suspicious activity, which is relayed to patrol officers.

“As many ears and eyes we can have in the community will be a great help for us,” said Gainesville’s Community Policing and Crime Prevention officer, Joe Britte.

There are neighborhood watch signs up in Schlereth’s neighborhood, but she isn’t aware of any meetings in the three years she’s lived there.

One neighborhood watch meeting for residents of the Dixon Drive and Chestatee Road communities is scheduled for Nov. 5 on the campus of Brenau University. Britte expects a large turnout.

Hooper said police are doing everything they can to respond to the increase in burglaries by targeting hard-hit areas with extras patrols, while encouraging residents to take preventive measures. A new program dubbed Operation: Alert will train public utility workers to look out for suspicious people while on their garbage and meter-reading rounds. Britte is available for on-site security surveys of homes and businesses.

Hooper said the burglary problem isn’t so bad people should be afraid to leave their homes unattended, and adds police “don’t want to create a panic” by causing people to overestimate the scope of the problem through widespread alerts. He noted that violent crimes, such as recent home invasions which have occurred in other Georgia towns, have not increased in Gainesville.

The chief also said police did not intend to give the impression that recently announced arrests would bring burglaries in the area to an end.

Gainesville police said two men arrested earlier this month may be responsible for as many as 20 burglaries. But there were about 40 residential burglaries in the city limits in September.

“When we lock up a DUI driver, we don’t expect there to never be another DUI driver on the roads,” Hooper said.

Right now, Hooper said, there seems to be several groups of burglars operating, many of them desperate and taking advantage of opportunities.

Hooper said regardless of how many people are victims, he sympathizes and understands their frustrations.

“If you’re the victim, it doesn’t matter how many other people got hit — you got hit,” Hooper said. “When you’re a victim, you feel violated.

“We sympathize, and we want to do everything we can to find these folks and put them in jail. But we also want to try to prevent it from happening.”

Anyone interested in starting a neighborhood watch or reactivating a neighborhood watch should call Britte at 770-287-0893 or e-mail jbritte@gainesville.org. In Hall County, call Deputy Stephen Wilbanks at 770-534-5251.

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