Homeowners fighting back against thieves
By COURTNEY BAJUSZ
Though tired of hearing about home burglaries on their streets, residents of The Lakes of Highland Glen aren't too tired to take action.
In the last three weeks alone, burglars have broken into at least four homes in the new subdivision off Pearland Parkway.
Many of the residents refuse to be victimized again.
"(Lakes of Highland Glen) is a wonderful, tight-knit community. We have all recognized that our community has become a target, and we will do everything we can to make us a less desirable one to thieves," said Arwen Jackson, a member of the neighborhood-elected advisory committee.
Most of the recent break-ins in the subdivision have occurred during the day, after residents have left for work.
"This suggests that the homes in (the neighborhood) are being scoped out by people to gain knowledge of their habits and schedules," Jackson said.
Thanks to heavy construction and service traffic in the neighborhood, burglars pull up in strange vehicles, break in through front or back doors and make off with big-screen TVs, computers and other high-ticket items without ever drawing attention to themselves, she said.
Everyone from pool and sprinkler system installers, painters and cable guys to lawn crews and maids sweeps through the neighborhood unsuspected, she added.
"The construction . . . is still ongoing, so strange cars are often in the neighborhood, and it does not usually cause alarm," she said.
Jackson, who has founded and now moderates a neighborhood e-mail newsletter with crime updates, said she and others will propose anti-burglar strategies at an all-residents meeting soon, hoping to nip the smash-and-grab problems before they skyrocket.
Ideas? A neighborhood watch patrol, a list of non-suspect vehicles, home security information and professional security patrol and gates.
"All of these ideas have pros and cons, (but) they will be discussed and debated," Jackson said.
For other residents of newer Pearland neighborhoods, locking doors doesn't cut it anymore either.
In fact, according to police, most problems begin with neighborhoods themselves: people not learning their neighbors' comings and goings and clueing into suspicious activity.
"Your own neighborhood is your best defense," Officer Jason Wells said.
Lt. Onesimo Lopez, Pearland Police Department evening shift commander, said burglars are especially targeting the west side of town, where neighborhoods are still under construction and people are less likely to watch out for neighbors.
"If it's a large neighborhood, sparsely populated, no one is looking out for other neighbors," Lopez said.
In fact, burglars - sometimes construction workers or friends of workers themselves - scope out homes around construction sites, learning residents' schedules and assessing the layout of unoccupied homes so they can steal washers, dryers and other new appliances, he said.
Wells, who patrols the west side, said residents there often fail to report burglary attempts because they don't know what to suspect or aren't around to witness it.
"Older parts of town are targeted less because people know their neighbors. We get more calls on the east side of town for suspicious activity because neighbors are reporting," Wells said.
Police urge citizens not only to report anything quickly but to memorize neighbors' vehicles, to keep neighbors' cell phone numbers handy for confirmation of unidentified workers and to question all solicitors.
"People will use bogus stickers and play like contractors. They always try to have a gimmick. . . . We've had burglars dress up like UPS (employees) before," Officer John Ramos said.
At minimum, to protect homes from burglars, police recommend security devices and deadbolts that require inside and outside locks.
Other preventive measures include floodlights, motion detectors and dogs to create commotion.
Burglars often "window-shop" before they break into a home, so closing curtains and locking up valuables may prevent some burglars from targeting a particular home since they can't guarantee a reward, Lopez said.
"They don't want to commit a felony and not get anything for it," he said.
High-ticket items? Jewelry, weapons, video games and consoles and anything else that can be pawned off quickly, Wells said.
"Obtain the make, model and serial numbers or etch your own personal mark on your valuables" for increasing chances of identification after a burglary, he said.
According to Wells, burglars often target isolated homes or those in a strip of houses with all owners gone, so faking activity - leaving a TV, radio or light on - may deter some would-be thieves.
"Very few burglaries occur when people are at home. . . . Burglars are about the path of least resistance," he said.
Police will also conduct free home security checks, which may qualify citizens to receive up to a 20 percent discount on their homeowner's insurance policy if they meet security requirements.
If a burglary does occur, however, owners should remain outside the home until police arrive not only to protect themselves if burglars are still inside but to keep evidence untouched.
"It makes our job easier," Wells said.
Pearland Burglary Stats
From Jan. 1 to May 25 last year, police recorded 99 home burglaries in Pearland. During the same time this year, that number has dropped to 87, though 11 other burglaries have occurred in unoccupied homes this year.
From 2005 to 2006 alone, the number of home burglaries jumped from 165 to 231 the entire year - a surge partly connected to the increase in population from the annexation of Municipal Utility District 5 and general growth, Lopez said.
"With more people, you inevitably get more crime," he said.
Also, as Pearland grows, officers cannot be everywhere at once and rely on citizens to report suspicious activity.
Currently, Pearland Police Department holds an officer per 1,000 residents ratio of about 1.27.
According to the FBI, the national average in 2005 was 2.3.
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