Scott Doss returned from a two-week summer vacation and found his Augusta home ransacked.
Burglars apparently weren't scared off by security lights or the signs warning that his home was protected by state-of-the-art technology. The intruders cut his phone line, broke out the lights and entered the house though a rear bedroom window.
When he returned, Mr. Doss found that several pieces of jewelry were missing, including his high school ring, his wife's costume jewelry and an heirloom ring once worn by his grandfather.
"They were after small stuff that they could easily get money out of," Mr. Doss said.
Burglaries are among the major crimes on the rise in Richmond County, according to a comparison of the first six months of this year with the same period last year. Burglaries jumped 8.5 percent, from 1,005 reported between January and June 2001 to 1,090 this year.
Armed robberies, aggravated assaults and homicides also saw an increase. Domestic violence and rape declined.
Richmond County sheriff's officials have a few theories on why burglaries, in particular, are increasing. Maj. Ken Autry said burglaries jumped this year because budget cuts took 34 officers off the road.
"When they took these deputies, the sheriff reminded them that he was going to have to increase the size of beats and cut out the special teams," the major said.
Before, special teams could concentrate on problem areas by patrolling the neighborhoods and pursuing the criminals.
"We don't have that luxury anymore," Maj. Autry said.
Property crimes rose in the South by 1.9 percent last year.
Crime experts say unemployment rates and the recession might explain increases in property crimes across the country.
In short periods of economic downturn, those who are unemployed typically have hope that they will find work, said assistant sociology professor Lesley Williams Reid, of Georgia State University. In times of recession and sustained unemployment, however, the sense that there are fewer opportunities might push people to commit crimes, she said.
"In a period of long-term recession, the relationship between the economy and crime is different," Dr. Reid said.
The professor said that research suggests that crime increase in times of "structural unemployment." Jeremy Rifkin, who has written several books on the impact of technological advances on society, argues that crime is deeply rooted in the despair of people who can't get a job in the world's richest economy.
Authorities say a contributing factor in the additional burglaries this year might be an increase in thefts at construction sites, where burglars break in and steal new appliances from homes being built.
"Last year, we didn't have the rash of new homes being broken into," said property crimes Lt. Tony Walden, who added that investigators have a suspect in the appliance thefts.
Though there are fewer resources to prevent burglaries, investigators say they continue to take them seriously. It just means more work for property crime investigators such as Paul Evans.
Last week, Investigator Evans collected fingerprint samples from Mr. Doss' home on Beverly Heights Drive and canvassed the area to question neighbors.
At the house, the investigator was looking for any evidence the burglars might have left, including footprints, fingerprints and even blood.
"The suspect always leaves something when he comes into your home," he said.
Investigator Evans also takes a detailed description of stolen items so his agency can compare them with items being sold at area pawnshops.
The officer said he frequently encounters burglary victims who are angry.
"This kind of crime really hurts the victim," he said.
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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