Suburban neighborhoods targeted for burglaries

Residents are told to lock windows and garage doors

January 21, 2000|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

A burglar prowling around affluent Columbia and Ellicott City neighborhoods at night has struck more than a dozen times since October, and police are warning residents to keep their garage doors and windows locked.

In all but one of the break-ins, the burglar or burglars -- police would not say if they believe it is more than one person -- did not have to force their way into the homes because residents had left garage doors open and the interior doors unlocked, said Sgt. George Belleville, who heads the Howard County police property crimes unit.

"He is going through the neighborhoods targeting cash," he said.

"He is taking purses that are left in plain sight. After he gets out of the house, he takes the cash but dumps the purse."

Belleville said a team of detectives is working to identify a suspect or suspects and he is confident an arrest will be made.

According to police, the break-ins began Oct. 2 when money was stolen from a home in the 10200 block of Clubhouse Court in the Fairways community of Ellicott City.

The residents of the house had left the garage door open and the interior door unlocked.

The burglar or burglars have followed a similar pattern, apparently driving through communities such as Burleigh Manor, Dunloggin, the Fairways and Dorsey Hall or nearby Columbia communities, looking for easy targets: homeowners who have forgotten to close garage doors.

The burglar enters the house through the garage and grabs money, wallets or purses.

In many cases, the burglar rides away on a bicycle stolen from the garage. The bike is often found a few blocks away with empty wallets or purses that were taken from the house.

`Didn't know'

William Allen's house is one of two homes on Cromwell Court in Burleigh Manor that was broken into last month.

"We didn't know that someone had been in the house until that morning, when a neighbor called us and said they found my wallet and my wife's purse in their front yard," Allen said of the Dec. 20 break-in, in which $300 to $400 was lost. Their credit cards and drivers' licenses were not taken.

Two days before, another home on Cromwell Court was burglarized in the same way.

A resident of that house, who asked not to be identified because she did not want the burglar to know her name, said she did not know money was missing until the next day when she went to Hecht's at The Mall in Columbia and discovered that $160 was missing.

The burglar "put my wallet back in my purse and I never knew it," she said.

At both homes, the burglar did not take computer equipment and cellular phones that were in plain view.

Another woman whose home had been broken into twice since December said her husband confronted a man both times but he got away before police arrived. The woman did not want her name or her street mentioned because of safety concerns.

Burleigh Manor and the surrounding neighborhoods have always felt secure, residents said, being miles from the city and tucked away in suburbia.

Take precautions

But Sgt. Paul Steppe, a crime prevention specialist with the Howard County Police Department, said precautions such as locking doors and using alarm systems should be taken regardless of whether a prowler is in the neighborhood.

"Everything should be closed and locked whether you are going to the Safeway around the corner or on vacation for a week," he said.

Homeowners should use exterior lights so anyone trying to break in could be seen from the street. Valuable items -- such as purses -- should not be left where they can be seen from outside.

"We are making it so easy for them to get in," Steppe said. "We are literally giving them the keys to our houses."

Safeguard tools

Most important, Steppe said, because the door leading from the garage to the inside of the house is locked does not mean you are safe leaving the garage door open.

"Think about what you keep in your garage," he said. "Tools. Every tool you need to get into a house, even power tools, are kept in the garage. And you have provided them the privacy to use those tools to break into the house."

2 to 5 minutes

Another crime prevention specialist, Detective John Reginaldi, a 20-year veteran of the Baltimore County Police Department, said that while he could not comment on the Howard cases specifically, burglars typically spend two to five minutes in the house looking for things that can be easily carried away and sold for cash.

"Anything that can be sold on the street, that's what they are after," he said. "Usually they want the money for drugs."

Nighttime burglars are more likely to be armed with a gun, Reginaldi said. But he does not recommend keeping a gun in the house to confront an intruder.

Too often the gun is taken from the homeowner and used against them, he said.

"In some cases, they are armed because they expect to be confronted by the homeowner," he said.

"If you have a gun in your home, you are much more likely to have it stolen, used against you or used in a suicide," said Reginaldi.

He and Steppe also recommend putting valuables such as cash, wallets and purses in a safe place rather than leaving them on the main floor of the house at night.

That's a point not lost on Allen, who said if he had kept his wallet upstairs, he would not have lost so much money.

"It's a pretty expensive lesson to learn," he said.

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