Bryce Crichton is just starting to learn about words, ditching the diaper and that mom and dad can't keep all the monsters away.
Since the week before Thanksgiving, the 19-month-old's Murray Hills home has been broken into four times. His mother worries that if this keeps on, something other than their furniture could get hurt.
"I've about got to my wits' end now because I do have Bryce, and I am not capable of protecting myself and protecting him," said Cindy Crichton, who stays at home with Bryce while her husband, Larry, works at United Packaging. "I get scared. After he gets in his car and goes to work, I don't want to leave the house."
BY THE NUMBERS
Increase from 2005 to 2009
Hamilton County: 28 percent
Hamilton County: 52 percent
Source: Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies
The first break-in was just before Thanksgiving on Nov. 19. Burglars cleaned out their prescription drugs.
Five days before Christmas, burglars hit again. This time, they took not only prescription drugs but Bryce's wrapped Christmas presents, Cindy's clothes and unusual items such as toothbrushes.
There was another burglary Jan. 7. And on Jan. 30, a man broke into the house while the family was home.
The Crichtons had had enough. After each break-in they have tried to increase safety, but top-of-the-line security doors and fences are expensive.
"Now it's getting more aggressive. We've done precautions more to the house, trying to get more secure, and still they're finding ways to get in," Cindy Crichton said. "It's gotten to the point that I think we're numb."
City owns land
Chattanooga police officials don't know why the home was hit four times.
An overgrown, city-owned patch of land behind the house provides a perfect hiding space and getaway path for burglars, Crichton said.
The Crichtons said officials need to do something to stop that land from being used by criminals -- and not just to solve their own problems.
Neighborhood residents often walk through the shadowy lot to do some late-night shopping at a nearby gas station and liquor store.
"Someone could get mugged or raped. Someone could be sitting back there and say, 'Oh, there's someone walking through. No one else knows,'" Larry Crichton said. "You look in our backyard, you've got a perfect little hiding space."
No help coming
City officials were stuck with the land in 1983 after the owner stopped paying property taxes. The lot is surrounded by private property, making access difficult, and officials said they don't want to clear away foliage that other residents might enjoy.
"It's nothing the city and county wanted or went out and purchased. We ended up with it, and you do the best you can," said City Councilwoman Pam Ladd, who lives in and represents Murray Hills. "It's not that we haven't done some things; it's just it takes a while among priorities ... to zero in on
something that's that specific."
Cindy Crichton said more needs to be done, but she doesn't know where to turn.
"No wheels are turning," she said. "It's like it's not an important issue to them."
She said communication with Chattanooga police, good at first, has dropped off.
"We haven't had any detectives come out here. We haven't had anyone talk to us, anyone to tell us the status of what's going on," she said.
Police at standstill
Chattanooga Police Capt. Randy Dunn said he feels for the Crichtons, but with little evidence and short-staffed patrols, officers have done all they can.
"You can speculate who you think may have done it, but if you don't have evidence to back it up, or even to direct you in that direction of the investigation, there's really not a lot you can do," Dunn said.
"I have no idea why this house is being targeted or has had this many break-ins. I've talked to these people at the community meetings; they've got a burglar alarm, the neighborhood group is fairly active, but you can't see everything. You can't be everywhere at all times, and that's why criminals are successful."
He said police staffing has shrunk because of tight budgets and that sometimes only seven or eight officers are available to patrol all nine city districts. Officers running from call to call don't have time to sit and watch a single area.
Whether the city helps or not, the Crichtons have no intention of moving out of the home they've spent countless hours fixing up.
"We're aggravated, yes. We get frustrated when it happens, but still, at the same point, this is our home," Cindy Crichton said.
"This is our house; we've made it ours. Our blood, sweat and tears from everyone in the family are in here."