The number of burglaries in Fort Wayne this year is on target to surpass last year’s total.
Burglaries to city homes and businesses had been declining in recent years, from a high of 2,410 break-ins in 2008.
But this year is likely to buck the trend and become the first time in four years that burglaries have increased over the previous year, Police Chief Rusty York said.
We’ve been up through the last 11 months – we’ll be up through the year, York said.
The police department’s crime statistics show the number of burglaries in 2012 is up 4.7 percent through November, compared with the same period last year.
In 2011, there were 1,888 burglaries to homes and businesses, according to police data.
This year, city police have investigated 1,816 burglaries through November.
One reason for that increase, he said, is the theft of copper.
Two years ago we saw a pretty significant increase in copper theft, York said.
According to police data, in 2010, there were 130 reports of copper being stolen from city homes in the form of pipes, wire or both. In 2011, that number reached 138. So far this year, 209 copper burglaries have been reported, according to police data.
Scott Culbertson, a Garrett resident who works as a contractor, said he knows of seven or eight vacant homes he has worked on where copper has been stolen.
People see the empty houses – and we mark them with stickers on the front, so that’s the sign right there – and they get in, Culbertson said. They kick a door in, bust a window or whatever it takes.
Culbertson recalled that when copper prices were higher several years ago, thieves hit houses he was working on dozens of times.
Most of the copper stolen comes from water lines or wiring, he said.
Another reason for the increase in burglaries is a rising number of false burglary reports, York said.
York said his department frequently hears reports that can’t be proved or that sound suspicious – especially with rent-to-own items or prescription medication.
People in rent-to-own situations will sometimes sell an item or move it to another location and call in to report a burglary, York said. When police write up a burglary report, people can use the reports to limit individual liability, he explained.
We’re also seeing an increase in prescription thefts, he said. People making false reports so they can go back to their doctor and get more medication.
With those statistical challenges in mind, York said, it’s better to look at the overall trends than to focus on a specific situation.
Trends and statistics
The city averages about 151 burglaries each month, according to police data.
So far in 2012, police have made 170 arrests related to burglaries, according to police crime statistics.
York said it is common to see an increase in burglaries during the holidays – especially when homeowners buy big-ticket items and deposit the packaging at the curb for trash pickup.
Typically, they will steal small items. Things like gaming systems that are easy to carry, smaller flat-screen TVs, that sort of thing, York said.
Most burglaries occur during daytime hours while adults are at work and children are at school, and targeted areas are most often in the southwest and southeast areas of Fort Wayne, York said.
It’s usually in an area that is densely populated or in areas with a lot of empty homes, he said.
Older apartments or homes that don’t have updated security are also commonly targeted, he said.
Unfortunately, a lot of the time the people who have the least are the victims, York said. We have the same people calling two and three times who have been victimized.
Within the past decade, city police have introduced two programs to help catch burglars, York said.
The Automated Fingerprint Identification System works by taking DNA or fingerprints or palm prints collected at the scene of a burglary and checking them against a database of people arrested in Allen County or the surrounding area.
The second program, called LeadsOnline, connects to pawnshop databases and allows police to search for lost items.
Pawnshops are required to obtain identification, a photo and information about merchandise being pawned before they can accept items from sellers, creating a decent database for police to search when an item is reported stolen, York said.