COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department has made 18 arrests and is following up on scores of other leads in connection with 42 burglaries reported in November and 74 in December.
Columbia police received two or three burglary reports almost every day in December, Columbia Police Public Information Officer Jessie Haden said.
- Keep all doors and windows closed and securely fastened. An open window or door is an open invitation for burglars. Thieves are also quick to spot weak locks that might be easily forced open. Doors should have deadbolt locks with a 1-inch throw and a reinforced strike plate with 3-inch screws. All windows should have window locks.
- Secure sliding glass doors by placing a metal rod or a wooden dowel rod in the track and install vertical bolts. This will help prevent burglars from forcing the door open or lifting it off the track.
- Always lock the door to an attached garage. Don't rely on your automatic garage door opener for security.
- Create the illusion that you are home by using timers on lights, radios and TVs. Make your residence appear occupied, even when no one is home.
- Keep the perimeter of your home well-lit. Installing low-voltage outdoor lighting is a cost-effective way to discourage intruders.
- Never leave clues that you are away on a trip. Have a trusted neighbor collect mail and newspapers while you are away so delivered items do not accumulate. You can also ask a neighbor to park in your driveway or parking place to make it appear that you are present.
- Keep some shades and blinds up and curtains open to maintain a normal, everyday appearance in your residence.
- Never leave a message on your telephone answering machine telling people that you are away from home. A message that you will return at a certain time leaves your home vulnerable in the interim.
- Keep shrubbery trimmed away from entrances and walkways. Large and ornate hedges might be beautiful, but they also provide a hiding place for burglars who need only a minute to break in through a window or door.
Twenty-one — the largest number reported — were reported on Christmas Eve on Rolling Rock Drive and nearby areas.
"I can’t remember a time when we've had 21 burglaries in one night, holiday or not," Haden said. She has been with the department for 16 years.
Haden said more burglaries might be reported as residents return home from holiday vacations.
"It’s typical for us to see spikes that will occur in the same part of town, items stolen, or how they break in," Haden said. "When those persons are taken into custody we clear a lot of cases. It’s not uncommon to clear five or 10 cases with one person."
The spike in burglaries started in November when the department began to see similarities in the types of items that were being stolen. These included gaming systems, video games, guns, movies, laptops and flat-screen TVs.
The theft of the large flat-screen TVs led the police to think that multiple people were working together in the burglaries, Haden said.
In early December, 13 people were arrested on suspicion of burglary; six of them were juveniles.
Although three of the suspects were released on bond shortly after their arrest, the Police Department has no proof that they were involved with the subsequent Christmas Eve burglaries, Haden said.
The arrests were made with the help of tips from citizens who reported that people were selling suspicious items door to door.
Since then five more arrests have been made, and some suspects have implicated themselves and others in connection with the Christmas Eve burglaries.
"The number of suspects involved is unusual," Haden said. "We don't know how much overlap there is with these burglaries at this time."
Columbia police do know that the areas targeted are primarily student housing areas because burglars know that students are gone during breaks and that certain types of items are readily available in student homes.
Joseph Eberhard, 19, and Tim Gaasch, 21, both students at MU, were victims of the Christmas Eve burglaries.
Eberhard of 3510 Marquis Court called the police around 8 p.m. after he saw people running from his neighbors' back yard on Christmas Eve. An hour later, after leaving his home, police called him and said that his home had been broken into. He said two flat-screen TVs were stolen. Police recovered one flat-screen TV taken from his home, Eberhard said.
A flat-screen TV was also stolen from Gaasch's duplex on Rolling Rock Drive. He received a call from Columbia police at 2 a.m. on Christmas Day saying his home had been burglarized.
On Dec. 29, Columbia police arrested Erin Johnson, 17, and Roosevelt Woods, 25, on suspicion of burglary of 3510 Marquis Court in addition to other residences. Johnson implicated himself and Woods in the burglaries, according to a Columbia Police Department news release.
Haden said most of the property stolen in the burglaries had not been recovered, and she encouraged people who might have bought some of it to notify police. She said that police have discretion in deciding whether someone might have unwittingly purchased stolen property.
People who provide information that leads to the arrest of suspects can receive up to $1,500 through the CrimeStoppers program.