A rash of daytime home burglaries has neighborhoods across Omaha on alert.
Dozens of residents in the past few weeks have reported broken windows, kicked-in doors, ransacked homes and thousands of dollars' worth of items stolen.
Omaha police said locking up before leaving for work isn't enough. Burglars are finding ways to break in. But several simple and inexpensive steps can make properties less attractive to burglars, beginning with old-fashioned neighborliness.
“One of the most important things to prevent burglaries is to get to know your neighbors,” said Sgt. Erin Dumont of the Omaha police crime prevention unit.
Kelly Henson was in her backyard with her dog early Sept. 21 when she saw someone climb through the window of her 93-year-old neighbor's house near 108th and Fort Streets.
“I saw some tennis-shoed feet going into a window and then a young man pulled himself up,” Henson said.
Maybe he lived there and forgot his keys, she thought. But after talking to her husband, Pete, she called 911.
Within minutes police had the house surrounded and a man was taken into custody.
Anything suspicious in a neighborhood should warrant a call to police, said Lt. Jay Leavitt of the Police Department's north investigations unit. Be sure to give 911 operators a detailed description, including things such as the make and color of a suspicious vehicle and its license plate number.
If a vehicle or person turns out to be in a neighborhood for legitimate reasons, that's OK, he said: “We would hope that neighbor would be appreciative that we checked.”
Dumont advised homeowners to look for places on their property where burglars could hide or be less visible, such as behind overgrown shrubs or trees: “Burglars, thieves and criminals don't like to be seen, so they're going to avoid places where there's activity and lighting.”
Henson was able to spot the burglar in her neighborhood because she could see into her neighbor's property.
Some recent burglars have been bold, walking up to doors and knocking before entering. If someone answers, Leavitt said, the would-be burglar is ready with an excuse, though the excuse often sounds fishy. If no one comes to the door, the burglar goes to the side or back, looking for a door or window to kick in or pry or cut open.
“We get several phone calls a week for burglaries in progress across the city,” Leavitt said.
Neighborhood association leaders said they also have gotten reports of garage door openers being stolen from unlocked vehicles. The burglar then uses the remote to gain access to the garage and possibly the house with little effort, said Robert Runyon, president of the Loveland Neighborhood Association.
Victims have reported stolen tools and electronics — including large flat-screen televisions — jewelry, bicycles, firearms, cash and credit cards.
Last week Omaha police arrested two men suspected of burglarizing at least five homes in about 30 days. Leavitt said items recovered at the men's apartment near 41st and Hamilton Streets tied them to two burglaries near 42nd and Dodge Streets, one in the Aksarben neighborhood and another near 51st and Blondo Streets.
The men also were connected to a burglary near 60th and Cedar Streets. The victim in that burglary told police his garage door was kicked in between noon and 4 p.m. Aug. 23. Several hundred dollars' worth of electronics and clothing were taken, according to a police report.
The victim of the fifth burglary, near 72nd and Izard Streets, told police he locked his house about 7 a.m. Sept. 9. He returned at 2:15 p.m. to find the patio door on the side of the house open and damaged. Several musical instruments, firearms, ammunition and jewelry had been stolen, according to the police report.
Leavitt said investigators continued to search through recovered items in an effort to match the suspected thieves to additional burglaries.
Property owners should keep a list of the serial numbers on electronics, firearms and bicycles, and note any distinguishing markings, Dumont said. With serial numbers, police can quickly identify the owner of recovered property and use a database to cross-check any pawned property, police said.
Leavitt said no burglary is too small or insignificant to be reported to police.
“Even if it's an old, broken- down gaming system, if we find it, then it's another burglary charge for the suspect,” Leavitt said. “We need to be made aware of any burglary so we can do what we can to solve it.”
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