Eight deputies cram into Lt. Blaise Dresser’s office twice a week for an update on Augusta’s burglaries.
On this day, Dresser, in charge of the property crime unit at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, goes through 11 burglaries that happened the night before. Each man has a notepad and writes down any that have occurred on his beat.
The burglary task force was formed in the beginning of 2011 to combat a four-year rise in burglaries in Richmond County. It consists of five property crimes investigators and eight road patrol units.
Up to October, there were 159 fewer burglaries in Richmond County compared with the same time last year.
The men in this room were chosen for a few reasons. A key one is that they like to chat.
“Most of our crimes are solved by word of mouth,” said Sgt. William Leisey, an investigator on the task force. “You need people to talk to you.”
They are also chosen on the knowledge of the area they are assigned. Deputy Jeff Burdick always works downtown. After being on that beat for years, he has developed a rapport with residents there.
“If you want to know anything about anything (in that area), you talk to Jeff,” said Deputy Steven Jones, who works a few south Augusta beats.
Every officer on the task force brings something unique to the team. Deputy Kenneth McKenzie, who covers a beat close to Jones, is also on the SWAT team. He also apparently is a magnet for foot pursuits.
“That guy is like a gazelle,” Jones said.
Jones has been on the task force for only two months, but he has been a police officer for 10 years. Starting at the Richmond County Jail, he moved to road patrol and traffic before spending two years in Columbia County. He was back in Richmond County a short while before he was recruited to the team.
Burglaries are all about patterns, said Jones, and being able to get in front of that pattern is vital.
Not only are burglaries patterned in the geographical sense, but also by what is stolen. If every house is missing video games but the laptops and jewelry are skipped over, the burglars are most likely kids. In that case, the task force would be looking for juveniles who are out during the day when they should be in school.
MOST OF Richmond County’s burglaries occur during working hours, when most people are at work.
Because of this, the task force works Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but that can change if the pattern changes. They are assigned to neighborhoods that have been hit in the past. The officers are technically part of the crime suppression team, though they wear the same uniforms as the road deputies. Their main job is to be visible to stop burglaries before they happen.
One of the task force’s biggest challenges is the number of abandoned houses in the county. They are a great place for burglars to stash stolen loot and hide out while the police are searching the neighborhood, officers say.
The houses usually get destroyed when this happens, Jones said. Giant holes in the ceilings and walls, and sinks and stoves ripped out of their mountings are common. Graffiti is also typical.
The officers regularly check these houses and note any changes. If it looks like someone might be using it, they will alert the regular beat officers to keep an eye on it. If there are burglaries in the area, they will check these places first.
Another big hurdle is the design of some of the neighborhoods. For example, Woodlake Road off Tobacco Road backs up into a separate Woodlake Road off Windsor Spring Road. It only takes a minute or two to walk between them through the woods, but it takes at least five or six minutes to drive around it. Jones said this makes it easy for the burglars to disappear into a new neighborhood before deputies can get there.
BECAUSE TASK FORCE officers are in the neighborhoods and learning these tricks from covering so many burglaries, it makes it easier to know where a burglar might go and catch them on the other side.
“Being out there, being aggressive with these crimes is what is going to ultimately stop them,” Jones said. “If these places are being hit while we are there, we aren’t seeing something.”
The task force is credited with helping reduce burglaries in all areas of Augusta.
Recently, Leisey and Dresser went to a community meeting for the Fairington neighborhood to show the residents their numbers. From February to December 2010, the neighborhood had 65 burglaries. During the same period in 2011, only 22 were reported.
Leisey said the improvement was a joint effort of the neighborhood watch and the burglary task force.
“They were very happy,” he said. “We can’t do our job without people watching out for each other and letting our guys know whatever they can.”