published Monday, July 18th, 2011

Car break-ins drive Georgia theft increase

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Theft increased in several North Georgia counties over the last three years, and authorities blame car break-ins for a spike in 2010.

With the growing number of property crimes, authorities also are seeing new interest in Neighborhood Watch programs.

Statistics for 2010 show that thefts were up in Catoosa and Walker counties, to 738 and 200, respectively. Dade County had fewer thefts last year, though the number was up from 2008.

Chattooga County had fewer burglaries and thefts in 2010 than in prior years.

A growing trend of car break-ins in pockets of some counties is driving the rise in thefts, officials said.

“It happens weekly,” said Catoosa County Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Jordan.

It’s a crime of opportunity, because people tend to leave valuables in their vehicles, Jordan said.

In Walker County, most of the problems with car break-ins are in the Rossville and Flintstone communities, said Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson. Those cases normally come in clusters, with as many as 10 to 15 break-ins in one neighborhood, he said.

Then the problem will pop up in another area, he said.

“Most are going to be unlocked vehicles,” Wilson said. “Most of the time if a car is locked they go on to the next one.”

Burglaries were down for the last three years in Catoosa County, while Walker County saw a steady increase.

Walker County has seen a 16 percent rise in burglaries since 2008. There were 260 burglaries that year, 273 in 2009 and more than 300 last year. Wilson said the increase is consistent with that of previous years.

In Catoosa County, Jordan said residents are stepping up to participate in police- or sheriff’s office-sponsored Neighborhood Watch programs, in which people volunteer to watch for and report signs of criminal activity.

“In the last six months [law enforcement officers] are doing one or so [meetings] a month,” Jordan said.

Walker County has 37 Neighborhood Watch programs in place and four have been set up to begin training in August, said Sgt. Terry Hambrick. Sheriff’s deputies will meet with residents three times before the neighborhood begins to participate.

After the meetings, a block leader is assigned to the area to watch the houses in their sight, he said.

“We’ve got one of the best programs around here,” Hambrick said.

Across the region, assault charges were mixed.

Walker County had a slight decrease in aggravated assault cases, with 12 reported in 2010.

“We’re very fortunate most of our crime is property crime not person-on-person crime,” Wilson said.

But the number of reported assaults doubled in Catoosa County, from 28 in 2009 to 57 last year. Dade County had an increase in assaults from 63 in 2009 to 86 last year.

“Most of your simple violence has to do with spouse arguments,” said Dade County Sheriff Patrick Cannon.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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