The Bartow County Sheriff's Office on Nov. 3 issued a press release asking for the public's assistance after a rash of burglaries in the northern portion of Bartow County in the month prior. The Daily Tribune News began an in-depth look at burglaries in the following weeks, breaking down Bartow's break-in problem.
Burglary is defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as "the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft." Research conducted by The Daily Tribune News used only those reports labeled as burglary, and none of the statistics account for theft or criminal trespass cases where items of value were stolen.
According to statistics from the BCSO, the county saw 854 reported burglaries from Jan. 1 to Nov. 15, a 15.25 percent increase over the same period in 2010. Last year, 741 were reported.
BCSO Investigator and Public Information Officer Sgt. Jonathan Rogers said the Criminal Investigation Division cleared 181 cases, or roughly 24 percent, in 2010. This year, the percentage cleared has gone to 29 percent, or 251 cases out of 854.
Rogers said 500 of the 854 incidents reported in 2011 occurred between May 15 and Nov. 15, but was unable to detail whether break-ins were consistent over that time period or concentrated in one particular month.
Research by The Daily Tribune News showed burglaries were reported throughout the county at a steady rate through September and October, with 149 reports filed between both months. Bartow County residents reported 74 of unlawful entries in September with monetary values of items taken totaling $122,842. October's 75 burglaries resulted in a loss of monetary values totaling $177,620. That averages out to be $1,660.03 per break-in in September and $2,368.27 per report in October.
According to reports received Nov. 1 through Nov. 15, 46 burglary reports were filed with the BCSO. A total of $92,623 in property was taken, or $2,013.54 per report.
Based on the number of cases received by The Daily Tribune News between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, Bartow County averages 2.57 burglaries per day. For the year, the average is 2.68 per day.
Cartersville Police Department Capt. J.K. Black said the city has not seen an increase in burglaries -- reporting 168 for the year through Nov. 15, which is on par with 2010.
Rogers said a majority of the robberies occurred in what the BCSO classifies as Zone 1 -- the county is divided into zones 1, 2 North, 2 South and 3. Authorities believe a group of four to five suspects may be to blame, although no information on arrests or possible suspects has been released.
Of these four areas, Bartow County Sheriff's Office Uniform Patrol Maj. Mark Givins said Zone 1 covers the largest area.
"Zone 1 is the biggest," Givins said. "[It] covers the north end of the county -- Floyd County on the west, Cherokee County on the east and Gordon on the north. The cutoff point is Kingston Highway 293, Cass-White Road to Stamp Creek Road to Cherokee County."
Givins defined the other zones as follows:
* Zone 3 is from Kingston Highway 293 to the Polk County line and Paulding County in areas and Floyd County. "It covers what we call the Taylorsville area, bounded on the east by Douthit Ferry Road and Cassville Road -- 293 -- to the northeast."
* Zone 2 North is bounded by Cassville Road on the west, Cass-White and Stamp Creek roads on the northeast, East Main Street on the southeast.
* Zone 2 South is bounded by Douthit Ferry on the west, Paulding County and Cobb County on the southeast, Cherokee to the east, and covers the Acworth and Emerson areas.
"All reports that are filed by patrol division and considered 'active' -- as in no arrests made, some sort of proof that there was a crime committed, witness or suspect information included -- are reviewed by a supervisor in the Criminal Investigations Division," Rogers said. "Most burglary reports that are filed in this manner are assigned for follow up by an investigator, or the victim may be contacted by the supervisor to seek more information before assigning it for follow up."
In September, 39 reports filed were listed as "active" and October had 40 likewise filed. Of the 149 total reports filed, 10 were cleared, 20 were unfounded and another 40 are listed as inactive. For the first two weeks of November, three cases were unfounded, 27 were listed as active, 16 inactive and none were cleared.
According to the FBI, "In 2010, there were an estimated 2,159,878 burglaries -- a decrease of 2 percent when compared with 2009 data."
The FBI also reports that burglary accounted for 23.8 percent of the estimated number of property crimes committed in 2010, and of all burglaries, 60.5 percent involved forcible entry, 33.2 percent were unlawful entries (without force) and the remainder (6.3 percent) were forcible entry attempts. Burglaries of residential properties, according to the FBI, accounted for 73.9 percent of all burglary offenses.
Both Rogers and Black attributed the number of break-ins to the economy.
"I would just perceive it to be a lot of people not working for various reasons, whether it be the economy or drug addictions or past drug addictions, they can't get a job. I see that as causing an increase in burglaries," Rogers said, adding that CID continues to pursue those responsible and attempt to connect suspects apprehended to any prior cases for which they may be responsible.
Rogers said burglaries most often occur at different times depending on the type of structure -- residential or commercial.
"Residential burglaries are most likely during mid-day Monday through Friday, as this is the time most people are away from their homes," he said. "For commercial properties, it is any time that the business is closed (These usually are more likely during hours of darkness)."
Although many burglaries may show no connection, certain items are more likely to be taken than others.
"The most common items are any small item that can be easily used, resold or traded," Rogers said. "This includes cash, credit/debit cards, checks, medication, jewelry, small electronics, firearms or personal identification papers."
For certain items where serial numbers are available, such as electronics, firearms and some jewelry, knowing those numbers when filing a burglary report is an important piece of information that could help investigators find stolen items more quickly.
"The serial number is the one identifier that separates your item or device from any other that looks just like it," Rogers said. "Serial numbers are also able to be checked by law enforcement anywhere nationwide.
"For example, if you are a burglary victim and report your laptop stolen and provide the serial number, the department investigating the burglary will enter that serial number into a nationwide database for law enforcement. If an officer anywhere in the U.S. finds your laptop and checks the serial number through that database, they will immediately receive information that the laptop has been reported stolen through the investigating department, and it can be recovered or an arrest can be made or the investigation can be directed toward that area/community where it was located."
Considering the possibilities of items being recovered, Rogers urges residents to simply check their belongings for an identifying number.
"A lot of consumer items have serial numbers today," Rogers said. "Citizens need to just check the item to see if there is a serial number and record that number in case the item is stolen or lost."
Although investigators are trained to look for evidence and clues leading to an idea of who an unknown burglary suspect could be, there are challenges that hinder this process.
"One of the most difficult challenges in relation to fingerprints or other evidence left by offenders is public perception of such evidence," Rogers said. "There is what some law enforcement professionals refer to as the 'CSI effect' on public perception. That is that many citizens may believe that law enforcement is so advanced that technology can be deployed to withdraw or locate evidence anywhere that an offender has been."
He explained that the process of recovering evidence is more difficult than agents on television shows make it out to be.
"It is true that fingerprints are left behind on many surfaces," Rogers said. "But, to be able to identify the person who left the print, it has to be a quality print that law enforcement can remove or preserve for possible matching. Many surfaces around a home or vehicle are not the type that are capable of recovering fingerprints from."
Rogers added that these surfaces pose bigger challenges because, sometimes, they are visible.
"Glass and smooth non-porous surfaces are the best at retaining a fingerprint," Rogers said. "However, just because there appears to be fingerprints on such a surface, does not mean that the prints are of quality to be able to be useful in identification of an offender."
Sometimes, evidence is tampered with before investigators can arrive on scene. This also creates a difficulty for law enforcement.
"The prints must not be smudged or dragged across the surface as this distorts the identifiers that law enforcement needs," Rogers said. "It is also a challenge when there are dusty or dirty surfaces in the area of the theft."
Although burglaries occur when residents are not home, there are measures people can take to protect their belongings other than locking doors and windows and reporting suspicious activity in the area.
"An additional step would be to add an alarm system to the home or vehicle," Rogers said. "Make sure that the alarm is connected to a monitoring station or company and that it has a battery backup. The riskier or harder it is for a burglar to enter your home undetected, the more likely the burglar will bypass your home for an easier target.
"Good sturdy points and an alarm should be utilized for protection. If there are other homes close by, speak with neighbors to encourage them to contact 911 for suspicious persons or vehicles in the area."
While these extra security measures are important and great to have, the BCSO continues to ask for public assistance in solving difficult cases.
"Public assistance is very important to law enforcement for any case," Rogers said. "Assistance can be very important to investigators even though the citizen reporting such may not realize it.
"For example," Rogers continued, "a citizen may notice a suspicious vehicle sitting in a cul de sac and observe a description of it and the driver. The citizen may not know that several streets over a burglary was reported to have occurred during the same time that the suspicious vehicle was in the area. Providing this information to law enforcement could aid in identifying the burglars and recovering the property stolen."
BCSO also steps up patrols in areas where break-ins occur and routinely hold road safety checks in those locations.
Rogers said the looming holiday season, which officially kicks off Thursday, should see an increase in burglaries beginning in mid-December but he does not expect the rise to be significant.
Residents are encouraged to be vigilant throughout the holiday season, and as with other crimes, citizens can remain anonymous when requesting law enforcement response from 911 and can call Cartersville-Bartow County Crimestoppers at 770-606-TIPS where they may receive a reward if an arrest is made from the information provided. The criminal investigations division may be reached at 770-382-5050, extension 6029 or 6030.