ATHENS, Ga. -- Athens-Clarke police have tried several ways to slow the record number of burglaries plaguing the city. Officers held community meetings, helped organize neighborhood watches, even busted up a fencing operation that allowed burglars to unload pilfered goods.
Now, authorities are appealing directly to the public, offering cash rewards for anyone who can provide information that leads to an arrest.
Crimes Stoppers will pay as much as $1,000 for a useful tip.
"We want people to be aware," said Lt. Mike McKeel, who supervises Athens-Clarke's Eastside property crime unit. "In order for us to do our jobs, we depend on the community to tell us what's going on."
Most of the burglaries have been during the day, when residents are at work, and thieves most often get away with big-ticket items like flat-screen TVs, he said.
While overall crime in Athens is down 30 percent to 40 percent from the previous year, the number of burglaries has skyrocketed, with 300 more reports of residential burglaries than this time last year, McKeel said.
The county is on pace to see a record 2,000 burglaries this year, as opposed to 1,706 last year and 1,306 in 2007.
Police don't expect the crime wave to ebb anytime soon as thousands of University of Georgia students return to Athens in the next few weeks in advance of the first day of fall semester Aug. 17.
"With more people moving back here, there are more targets," McKeel said.
Still, locals shouldn't be resigned that crime isn't preventable, he said.
"It's a problem and it's been a problem, but I don't think anything has happened where people threw up their hands and panicked about it," McKeel said. "Sometimes (a cash reward) is a little bit of an incentive for people to do the right thing and call up."
Police recommend homeowners consider an alarm system or better locks and record the serial numbers and mark valuables to make them traceable.
Some burglars will try to get in and out of a home so fast, they'll hide stolen goods in woods or other hidden areas behind a home and return later to pick them up, McKeel said.
"They'll stash it and come back later," he said. "That's why it's so important to be vigilant."