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Property crime remains a holiday concern
Vehicles, homes are targets for thieves during Christmas season
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Years ago, people didn't worry about leaving their home for several days, sometimes even leaving doors unlocked.

Today, property crime is a constant worry for some, especially around the holidays.

"You should always be aware of that, around Christmastime especially," Gainesville resident Cynthia Parris said.

Gene Hill of Clermont agreed, but said property crimes are a year-round concern.

"I think it's always on your mind," he said. "It's gotten to where it doesn't have to be a certain season for this to go on."

In the past, Hill didn't worry about being a victim, but he has since installed a burglar alarm and never leaves his doors unlocked. His restaurant on Cleveland Highway in Clermont was broken into, causing him to be more cautious.

"I keep my doors locked. I didn't used to 50 years ago, but I do now," Hill said.

Not everyone's worried, though. Ed Pledger of Gainesville said he believes his neighborhood is safe and he hasn't had any previous issues.

"The incidents and crime in my neighborhood is not very high," he said. "I just don't worry about it too much."

Homes are not the only target, though. Thieves will search just about anything where valuables can be found, including vehicles.

Authorities say during the holidays, property crimes are more prevalent. Those crimes can include burglary, larceny, theft, shoplifting, entering autos and vandalism.

But authorities are primarily concerned with burglaries and entering autos.

"We sometimes see a little bit of a spike in thefts and burglaries and entering autos around the holidays," said Hall County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks. " I think it's mostly due to criminals realizing most of us are out shopping."

"We might have an increased number of electronics and other goods readily available that they can take advantage of," he added.

In 2009, Hall County saw a large spike in burglaries, 803 total compared to 665 the previous year.

Because of the significant increase, the sheriff's office created the Burglary/Property Crimes Task Force. Investigators began working with local pawn shops and became more responsive to burglaries at both residential and commercial locations.

Officials saw a 12 percent reduction in burglaries in 2010. The sheriff's office also had a 126 percent increase in burglary arrests, jumping from 65 in 2009 to 147 in 2010.

Compared to 2010, burglaries and thefts by shoplifting have both decreased for the months of November and December in 2011.

"We attribute that largely to the effort that our Criminal Investigations Division undertook with their Burglary Suppression Unit," Wilbanks said. "They've had a very successful year in arresting burglars and closing burglary cases and this is during a time when burglaries are up statewide and nationwide."

However, entering auto incidents for the months of November and December have increased this year compared to last. Thus far in 2011, there have been 42 entering autos compared to 30 in 2010 for those two months. Both years, though, have seen a decrease from the 82 total entering autos in 2009.

"We still see an increase in the entering autos. Throughout the year that's a crime that comes and goes, but during the holidays there's typically a little bit of a People can take precautions to protect their vehicles, police said. That includes placing valuables out of view and not leaving items unattended in cars very long.

Residents can also take steps to protect their homes from burglars. Locking all exterior doors and windows is the most obvious solution, but not the only one.

"There are some standard recommendations that we like to make in terms of what we call ‘hardening the target' and making your home a little less attractive" Wilbanks said.

Those recommendations include double key deadbolts on doors that extend at least one inch into the door frame and longer screws to keep the strike plate in place. That makes it more difficult for an intruder to break through a door.

"It's going to require a lot more effort and make them create a lot more noise," Wilbanks said. "Anything you can do to delay their entry or make their entry a little more difficult is ideal."

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