Two men thwarted a burglary in East Athens early Wednesday when one pretended to be a cop and yelled "freeze" at thieves who were leaving a home with flat-screen TVs and other belongings.
The burglars dropped the goods and sped off, but with the men's help, investigators may catch them yet, Athens-Clarke police said.
The same burglars are suspected of breaking into three homes Wednesday morning at The Retreat, a student cottage community off Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.
University of Georgia student Brett Strickland, 20, and UGA grad Clif Cauley, 26, got involved the way police wish more citizens would.
"We need neighbors looking out for neighbors," Athens-Clarke police Maj. Carter Greene said.
If burglaries continue at the current pace, the county could see a record of more than 2,000 break-ins this year, according to police.
Cauley, who lives off North Avenue, was visiting with Strickland at The Retreat, and as he was beginning to drive home about 2:30 a.m., he noticed something strange about a home on Magnolia Bluff Drive.
"I saw a door was cracked open, but there was no car in the driveway or lights on in the house," he said.
Cauley took a closer look, realized the door's window was broken and called 911.
He returned to Strickland's, and both men decided to investigate. As they waited for police to arrive, they heard a noise from a house across the street, on Artisan Place.
"It was really loud, like someone knocked over a washing machine, and then it got real quiet, and we saw lights going on and off," Strickland said.
Seeing two men carrying flat-screen TVs and a third with dozens of compact discs, Strickland shouted, "Freeze." The thieves dropped the stolen goods and jumped into a white Kia sport utility vehicle, apparently driven by a fourth person.
"I honestly don't think they looked back and thought we were the police," Strickland said.
Officers found the SUV less than an hour later, at an apartment complex off Old Hull Road, its hood still warm. The owner told officers she loaned it to her niece, who said she last drove it about 9 p.m. Tuesday.
"We think it was the same car," Greene said. "We're going to follow up on all leads and see where it takes us."
Strickland lost a flat-screen TV when his home was broken into earlier this year, and several of his neighbors' homes have been burglarized. Both men live in neighborhoods that have been plagued by break-ins.
Officers met with residents and property managers of The Retreat to discuss forming a neighborhood watch group, but not enough people were interested. So, Strickland and a neighbor became informal guards who regularly sit on the porch late at night and watch for suspicious activity.
"If we notice a sketchy car, we literally follow it around until it leaves," he said.