Rachel Parrish was upstairs when an intruder broke in and got away with a flat-screen television, laptop computer, and stereo from the Platt Street home she shares with her boyfriend and two small children.
The 25-year-old East Toledo resident believes the burglar got in through a side window and hid in her basement as she called police to report the crime on April 5. He left the back door open when he fled.
Now, her children are afraid to sleep in their own beds. And the family is considering leaving the city. "We are to the point where we do not feel safe in our home," said Ms. Parrish, whose garage had been broken into at an earlier date.
Burglaries soared in the city of Toledo last year, though the rate of such incidents fell through much of the region and overall nationwide. Chief Mike Navarre said the phenomenon is especially worrisome because burglaries are known to drive victims of the crime out of the area.
In a plan he submitted to the mayor recently, Chief Navarre pledged to devote more patrol efforts to burglary prevention, better involve vice officers in investigations, and ask the prosecutor's office to push for tougher sentences for convicted burglars.
"Burglary is a crime that is more apt to cause somebody to move out of the city," Chief Navarre said. "I think that people don't particularly like that the corner store gets robbed, or the gas station gets robbed, or the bank gets robbed, but when someone breaks into their home, they feel personally violated."
According to a review by The Blade of some surrounding communities and counties in the region, reports of burglaries have dropped or remained consistent in most areas.
Property crimes fell nationwide last year, according to the preliminary Uniform Crime Report. Burglaries, thefts, and automobile thefts dropped about 6.1 percent between January and June, 2009, from the same months the year before.
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Reports of burglaries increased by 23.64 percent in Toledo in 2009 from the previous year, for which Chief Navarre partially blames the May, 2009, layoffs of 75 police officers.
Some of those break-ins came in the form of violent home invasions.
Within a week of the May 1 layoffs, Frances Fox, 88, of 3373 Mulberry St., was attacked and killed in her home. Her husband, Kenneth Fox, 75, was beaten but survived the attack. He died in December, and a coroner's ruling determined that complications from his injuries were a factor in his death.
The North Toledo home of Anna Slandzicki was burglarized early in the morning of May 17, 2009.
Ms. Slandzicki, who was 88 years old at the time, was punched in the face by an intruder she surprised at about 1 a.m. inside her Mulberry Street residence. The man tried to take her car but fled on foot when the car's alarm went off. Her home was burglarized on two other occasions within that same month, police said.
Law enforcement officials point to illegal drug use as the prime motivation behind the majority of burglaries.
"The people breaking into homes, robbing banks, robbing convenience stores are the same people looking for money to buy drugs," he said.
Chief Navarre said the temporary police layoffs forced several members of the vice drug squad and property crime detectives back onto road patrol, diluting the department's ability to wade through the rise in burglaries in Toledo.
"It's a crime of opportunity," said Toledo police Lt. Dave Schmidt, supervisor of property crime investigations. "They're going to break in and take what they can carry."
That often makes burglary cases tricky to solve, Lieutenant Schmidt said. Some of the smaller items such as jewelry that are attractive to thieves lack identifying information or may be easily concealed from potential witnesses. And most often, there are no fingerprints or DNA evidence left behind by the criminals, he said.
Flat-screen televisions generally remain a popular and easy target for thieves, who can often spot them from the street, carry them out of a home, and resell them for cash, police say.
Mary Sanchez, 63, can attest to that. She returned home after midnight on April 7 to find someone had broken through two deadbolts to get through the back door of her Crittenden Avenue home in South Toledo. The intruder left the door wide open.
She also was victimized in November, when burglars came in through a window and got away with her 46-inch flat-screen television. Stolen this week was the smaller television she had purchased to replace the first one that had been taken.
"It's just an awful feeling to know someone has been in your home, seen pictures of your family and everything, and they just come boldly in here and take what they want," Ms. Sanchez said. "It just gives you a sinking feeling."
Reports of home burglaries have fallen in Adrian, Findlay, unincorporated sections of Lucas County, Oregon, Sandusky, and Sylvania Township.
The number of burglaries remains relatively consistent in Bowling Green, which reported one less burglary than the previous year; unincorporated parts of Ottawa County with one additional burglary compared to the previous year; Northwood, where burglaries rose by eight incidents; Perrysburg, which had two fewer incidents than the year before, and Sylvania, which had two additional incidents.
An increase was reported in Maumee, where the number of burglaries rose from 35 incidents to 52 last year.
Crime has fallen overall in Sylvania Township, and last year burglaries dropped about 25 percent.
Sylvania Township Detective Jim Rettig credits an increasing number of homeowners who install security alarms, a vacation check program that directs officers to drive by up to three times per day, and watchful neighbors who report burglaries in progress.
Burglars are becoming more brazen, with some even knocking on the front door to be sure no one is home, Detective Rettig said.
"A lot of them will case the areas and they know when people won't be home," he said. "Almost all burglaries are during the daytime anymore, and if you think about it, it makes sense. When are most people working?"
Findlay reported a 16 percent drop in burglaries. Acting Chief Greg Horne said the decline occurred after the department changed work shifts and transferred some officers who had been in administrative positions back to the street.
The department has lost eight officers since 2008 to retirements and other departures and anticipates more could be lost to layoffs if the city's deficit does not improve. Patrol officers now work five eight-hour shifts rather than the former four 10-hour shifts per week, which puts more officers on the road per shift, Chief Horne said.
He said that the drop in burglaries should indicate that those changes are working.
"Policing has changed a little," Chief Horne said. "We get out and walk around more. Back in the day, that's what a police officer did in Findlay. Get out and around, stopped and talked, got a cup of coffee: What they now call 'community policing.'•"
Many suburban law enforcement officials were surprised to see the burglary numbers fall despite last year's economic decline.
Per-capita personal income in Ohio fell 1.4 percent last year and dipped 2.7 percent in Michigan as the recession worsened, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The unemployment rate in Lucas County climbed to 13 percent in February from 11.6 percent a year earlier.
For Toledo and its suburbs, a Brookings Institution report found the city's unemployment rate went from 7 percent in December, 2007, to 12.9 percent in December, 2009, and the suburban rate doubled from 6 percent to 12.2 percent.
"In 2009, the economy was worse, so when I crunched the numbers we were sort of an anomaly," Findlay Police Lt. Sean Young said of his community's decline in burglaries.
"Because when the economy takes a nosedive, criminal activity and especially property crimes usually increase. We were actually surprised."
He wasn't alone.
Home burglaries fell by about 30.4 percent to only 64 incidents last year in Wood County, which Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said he initially dismissed as "a fluke" that seems to contradict the economy. But business break-ins more than doubled to 114 reports last year for an overall increase of 24 percent. "Would I expect them to be up some because of the economy? Yes," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said.
The sheriff said a new vacation surveillance program deserves some of the credit for the decrease in home burglaries. Homeowners may register for sheriff's deputies to ride by their home twice a day - during first and second shift - for as long as they are on vacation. Upon their return, the sheriff's office sends them a letter that includes a log of when the deputies rode past and whether there was any suspicious activity.
"We used to call them vacation checks, but there was no follow-through," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said of the follow-up letters to homeowners. "Now we're being proactive in actually going out and checking the houses. We purposely go at different times."
He noted that the motivation behind most burglaries in his largely rural county is the same as in urban areas: Most are drug-related. "Breaking into someone's home is very, very serious business," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said.
"That's going to be your serious burglar, a serious drug addict, someone willing to take a lot of risks to get what they want."
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