Lylanne Musselman sits with her cat near the window where burglars broke into her home. It took police about four hours to respond to her call.
When Lylanne Musselman returned from a daylong trip to Indiana earlier this summer, she found her home had been broken into, so she called the police right away. Then she waited.
The call was made about 9:30 p.m. For four hours, she heard nothing, then, at 1:30 a.m. when Ms. Musselman, 57, had given up on hearing from police that night and was about to go to bed, a cruiser finally pulled up in her driveway.
“All they said was they had an extremely busy night,” she said. When they arrived at her home on Sherbrooke Road, she said police stayed about 10 minutes.
And the burglary is likely to go unsolved as police have not identified a suspect.
This type of response is common for “past offense” burglaries, which are placed at a lower priority for police response than violent crimes or “crimes in progress.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Burglaries in Toledo
Toledo Police Sgt. Joe Heffernan said “in progress” burglaries are dispatched with the highest priority, but when the crime has already occurred, residents may have to wait.
“Everything has a priority,” Sergeant Heffernan said. “Crimes of violence and crimes in progress take priority.”
While there were 7,474 burglaries reported in Lucas County in 2012, only 814 burglary charges — or 10.9 percent of the total burglaries — were booked in the Lucas County jail that year.
Lucas County has averaged a 10.8 percent arrest rate for burglaries from 2004 to 2012, compared to a national average arrest rate of 13.7 percent over that time period.
Part of the reason arrests are so rare is because many burglaries occur during the day when residents are at work.
“During the week, daytime, is when a majority of them occur,” Lucas County Sheriff‘s Detective Phil Williams said.
Toledo Police Burglary Detective Sgt. Chuck Dunn said if arrests do occur, it’s often because burglars left evidence such as fingerprints at the crime scene, are caught in the act, or a neighbor sees something suspicious and calls the police.
“We get a lot of cases because of citizens saying something,” Sergeant Dunn said.
Cause for concern
Ms. Musselman is not alone in complaining about slow officer response times. Shane Alberts, 29, had to wait nearly two hours for police to arrive after his backyard window was broken and door frame damaged, setting off his alarm system.
He is concerned about what kind of message this sends to potential burglars, including the person who attempted to break into his house, who may return.
“He would know that he could wander around in my house with reckless abandon for at least a good hour and a half,” before he would have to worry about police, Mr. Alberts said.
Sergeant Heffernan said that past-offense burglaries are processed the same way whether police show up in five minutes or three hours, but that still leaves residents to spend their day waiting for an officer to examine the site of the break-in.
Police said most burglars are looking for items that can be taken easily and sold quickly, such as jewelry, flat screen TVs, video game systems, other electronics, medications, and guns.
In Ms. Musselman’s case, the burglars stole jewelry and her laptop from her home on July 9, which was devastating for her because she is an adjunct writing professor at Terra State Community College.
“Losing a laptop as a poet and writer and adjunct instructor that teaches online classes, that was like losing my left arm,” she said.
Although few burglaries result in injuries, their effects can have a huge impact on those who experience them.
“You feel violated. You don’t feel safe in your home,” Whitney Tschirret, 26, said after her house on Anglebrook Court was broken into through a rear window on July 21.
Ms. Tschirret is moving to Rossford because she and her daughter, Sadie, do not feel safe in Toledo.
“She doesn’t even want to be home, and I can’t have my 5-year-old feeling like that,” Ms. Tschirret said.
David Pattin, whose Forrer Street home was also burglarized on July 21, said he now feels uncomfortable sleeping there.
“It does something to you, I mean especially if you’re a single working person,” he said.
And many people are not only burglarized once, but repeatedly. Ms. Tschirret’s home was broken into twice in six months, and Mr. Pattin’s twice in a week.
Burglaries have been on the decline in Toledo since 2011 when there were 8,366, down to a 10-year low of 5,357 in 2013, but before 2011 the number of burglaries has fluctuated without a clear pattern.
Sergeant Heffernan attributes the recent drop to the police department’s new strategy of “intelligence-led policing,” which it began implementing after the number of sworn police officers dropped to 413 in 2011, the lowest in a decade. This year the police department employs 623 full-time officers and nine burglary detectives.
Intelligence-led policing involves using data to identify crime “hot spots” and track the locations of frequent offenders in order to better focus limited police resources.
“We probably tripled the size of our crime analysis unit and put a lot of resources toward technology,” Sergeant Heffernan said.
Meanwhile, Detective Williams believes burglaries are up in the areas of Lucas County that the sheriff’s department responds to, but added that he didn't have numbers to back that up. “It goes in spurts,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll get a rash of them and then they’ll slow down.”
Residents said more patrols in their neighborhoods would help deter burglars, but they haven’t seen many officers.
“I think I’ve seen police drive down my street one time in the two years I’ve lived here,” Ms. Tschirret said.
“Honestly I’d just like to see a patrol car once in a while,” said Mr. Alberts, worries about what would happen if a more dangerous crime occurred.
Sergeant Heffernan said the department places emphasis on community-led policing and works with local Block Watch groups to educate citizens about how to stay safe.
“The community service officers are phenomenal,” said Tina Scott, a Block Watch leader in the Willys Park area. “They are just great at helping all the Block Watch groups.”
Sergeant Heffernan’s safety recommendations include keeping lights on and doors locked, limiting dark areas where burglars could sneak in easily, and using security cameras and home alarm systems. Additional tips can be found on the police department’s Web site, toledopolice.com.
Ms. Musselman has taken that advice. She had her alarm system repaired and is careful not to leave her windows open as she did before.
“I don’t leave the house without making sure everything is functioning,” she said.
But she has given up hope of getting her property back and is using a laptop loaned from a friend.
“I don’t particularly blame the police,” she said, but “it doesn’t make you feel any better as a citizen.”