Tips from residents help combat rural burglaries
by Clarke Davis
There are three things when it comes to rural burglaries that Sheriff Jeff Herrig advises: Lock things down; subscribe to a security service; and call 911 with tips.
The same thing goes for city dwellers too, but rural burglaries are the most typical in Jefferson County. Two-thirds of residents live outside an incorporated city. The majority of property crimes occur south of K-92 highway and they are the most difficult crimes to solve.
But solve some they do. In fact the prosecutor’s desk currently has a number of cases wrapped up by sheriff’s officers in hopes of gaining convictions.
“We always see an increase in burglaries when the economy is bad,” Herrig said.
There had been 27 burglaries as of March 7 this year, three more than last year at the same time. Last year’s total was 121. Of that number, about 30 were car burglaries.
“We see an increase in scrappers . . . people after copper and metal of any kind they can sell,” he said.
The sheriff said there are a lot of houses that have been foreclosed on and are sitting empty. They get stripped of wire and cabinets and his office doesn’t get called until long after the crime.
“This is a tough job and we need the public’s assistance,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to call my office or 911 with information of any kind.”
He’s talking about a person or vehicle that seems out of place. A tag number is a real help, but having someone report a white pickup came in handy recently. Douglas County was searching for a white pickup that turned up running the roads in Jefferson County.
“Sometimes it’s just the simplest information,” he said.
Herrig said Jefferson County works real close with all neighboring county law enforcement agencies trying to do the same thing — catch thieves.
Criminals will often be in search of people not at home and when someone answers the door they will say they are looking for some address or person. Herrig encourages residents to report these incidents and give the best descriptions they can.
The cost runs $30 to $40 a month, but the sheriff said it’s a rare home with a security system that gets broken into. He said one recent burglary occurred at a home with an alarm, but the warning sign out on the road was covered by weeds. The thieves left quickly after the alarm sounded, he said.
“We get a number of false alarms that we check out, but that’s better than finding a crime has been committed,” he said.
The sheriff has been a victim of burglary and believes it should be considered a person crime and not just a property crime.
“It causes a person to feel very violated and it affects how a person feels,” he said.
The sheriff’s office gets 6,000 calls a year. Those are calls that generate a report and could be anything from a child abuse case to a report of a cow out on the road. Herrig, a 30-year veteran of the department, said it is still their mission to attempt to follow up and make a personal contact with each call.
“I feel that if someone has taken their time to call us, we need to get back with them,” he said.
He has 23 full-time officers with arrest powers. Several, including himself, run county roads in unmarked vehicles.
“Some of these officers I call ‘hunters,’ ” he said. “They get on a trail and stay on it.”
Which causes Herrig to sweat another concern: Meeting a growing demand with fewer dollars—a budget that has been cut by $200,000.
He said he can’t afford the overtime on the present budget and keeps his fingers crossed that the county doesn’t experience a serious, budget-busting crime.
As the fight against burglars continues, the sheriff suggested residents let his office know when they go on vacation. They can’t make daily checks, but they will plan to visit the area more often.
Most often it’s the common sense things to steer a burglar away. It might help to leave a car in the driveway and a radio on — anything to suggest someone is home.
“And call with information about anything unusual no matter how trivial,” he said. “We do solve some of these crimes and it is almost always with the public’s help.”
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