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Gainesville home invasion shows need for prevention measures
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A home invasion robbery this week in which two women were forced into a closet at gunpoint isn’t a common occurrence in Gainesville, but it illustrates the need for common-sense safety measures, police say.

Sgt. Johnny Ray said two masked men entered a home in the 400 block of Hollywood Circle through an unlocked door at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and held two women, 18 and 72 years old, captive at gunpoint.

The two women were forced into a bedroom and the robbers ransacked the home, taking an unspecified amount of cash and jewelry, Ray said.

The robbers then left, fleeing in a white minivan. The women were not injured in the robbery.

Home invasion robberies are not frequently seen in Gainesville. While no statistics are kept specifically on home invasions, the city had 33 armed robberies and 23 robberies in all of 2007, a drop-off from 39 armed robberies and 30 robberies in 2006. There were 124 residential burglaries in the city limits in 2007, a slight increase over 2006, when there were 119.

A robbery occurs when property is taken from someone in a face-to-face encounter; a burglary generally occurs when a home is unlawfully entered, usually when no one is home.

Joe Britte, a crime prevention officer for Gainesville police, said many such crimes can be avoided by taking precautionary measures at a "common-sense level."

"It’s all on the basic level," Britte said. "Keeping your doors locked, using dead bolts, keeping everything secure."

Britte suggests that people program their home phones and cell phones with a one-touch quick dial for 911.

At least one light should be kept burning at all times in the home, "to give the home the look that it’s occupied," Britte said.

For those who choose to use firearms as protection, they should always go through the proper legal channels of probate court for registration and take a gun safety course, Britte said. Georgians need a permit to carry concealed weapons in public.

A dog can also prevent break-ins, whether it’s a rottweiler or a chihuahua, Britte said.

Perhaps the best residential crime prevention measure is establishing a neighborhood watch, Britte said.

"It’s neighbors watching out for neighbors, keeping an eye on each other’s property," he said. The Gainesville Police Department and Hall County Sheriff’s Office both offer free neighborhood watch programs.

Britte said in the past few decades, "things have changed dramatically" in Gainesville and Hall County.

"Our population has changed. We’ve grown immensely, and your awareness should increase with it," Britte said.

Anyone with information about Tuesday’s home invasion robbery is asked to call the Gainesville Police Department at 770-534-5254. For information about setting up a neighborhood watch in Gainesville, call 770-287-0893.

To start a neighborhood watch in Hall County, call 678-776-3942.