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Michelle Davies | Journal Gazette
At Bishop Luers High School on Monday, Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York speaks to residents concerned about burglaries in the Southwood Park area.

Break-ins put neighbors on edge

Chief increases protection as burglars hit city's southwest side

The Journal Gazette

Some who came were victims already, having woken up to find a window screen cut and items from their home missing.

Others were fearful of being next and came to find out what they could do to make their neighborhood safer.

More than 150 people from at least four southwest-side neighborhoods that have been hit by a spate of uniquely brazen burglaries and break-in attempts gathered in a room at Bishop Luers on Monday night.

There to speak to them and take their questions was Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York and several members of his staff.

"I wish we could come here to tell you we have a suspect in custody, but we can't," York told the crowd. "There are a couple persons of interest that we feel encouraged about."

The break-ins began toward the end of August in Southwood Park, but those mainly involved someone busting the locks to detached garages.

In September, though, someone or some people began cutting the window screens to homes at night – while people inside were sleeping – and stealing things that way.

In at least one case, police believe the culprit used a hook device to lift purses out of the homes.

They usually stole cash or items that could be sold quickly – they never took debit or credit cards that could be traced to them.

Since Sept. 1, Southwood Park has had 19 reported burglaries, police said at Monday's meeting.

Only three of those had losses, but in 10 of those it looked like someone had cut window screens to home in an attempt to get access or get inside.

This weekend, though, 11 burglaries were reported in nearby Harrison Hill.

In four of those, items were stolen; seven involved window screens that had been cut.

The Fairmount and Oakdale neighborhoods have also been hit.

Det. Casey Furge said he has a list of people of interest and that it could be a group or just one person committing the burglaries.

Police have collected evidence from previous burglaries and are in the process of analyzing DNA and fingerprints found at various scenes.

"I just can't wait to put the handcuffs on the guy or guys doing this," Furge told the crowd. "And if I could do it for every screen they cut, I wouldn't have a problem with that."

York and his staff advised people in those neighborhoods to keep their windows shut and locked – even upstairs windows, they said, because in some cases residents reported second-story screens cut.

One woman in the audience said someone had tried to cut the screen door on her second-story deck.

York also emphasized that his department has poured more resources into the area, including plain-clothes officers who are part of specialized teams.

Some residents have even called 911 on these officers, saying they appeared suspicious.

And York urged the residents to continue to call 911 if they see anything they deem suspicious, no matter what.

Even after some in the crowd raised concerns, saying they were met with a dispatchers' resistance to send a patrol car or felt they were given the run around, York told them to continue to call.

"I'll call dispatch tonight and let them know … your neighborhood is different," York said. "Tell them you talked to the chief of police and he told you to call."

Police also cautioned residents about the use of personal firearms, especially after what some in command saw as disconcerting Facebook comments regarding the burglaries.

One man – who didn't even end up living in any of the neighborhoods – wrote on the social media website in the aftermath of the burglaries that he would be doing armed patrols.

Deputy Chief Stephen J. Haffner asked residents not to do anything like that, and asked them to call 911 if there is anything wrong.

"911 is never a wrong phone call," he said.

Haffner added that at least six officers live in the areas being targeted, and at least one has put in work in his off-time to help ensure the safety of the neighborhood.

"Get to know your neighbors," said Haffner about how to help make neighborhoods safe. "Not just the ones next door, but the ones two houses down or down the block."

A woman in the audience asked if the burglaries were connected to a home invasion this past summer that left a woman badly beaten.

York said that while they don't seem similar, police cannot rule out the possibility.

"We can't say it is and we can't say it isn't," he said. "We certainly haven't seen the violence we did in that one."

Police also urged residents to turn on their porch lights at night, leave valuables locked away and make sure doors are secure.

They also directed residents to a multitude of burglary prevention tips put together by Officer Michael Joyner, the spokesman for the department.

Those tips can be found at www.fwpd.org/prevention.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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