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When Lydia Bell and her daughter were at a car wash the day seemed normal.
That is, until a neighbor appeared and told Bell police were at her home down the street.
When Bell arrived at her residence on Chester Ave., it had been ransacked. Police said a burglar tore down part of her privacy fence and broke in through a back window, taking jewelry, cell phones, money and two guns.
"This would have never happened if my dog had been free to guard the backyard, and if someone had told me my windows were not connected to the alarm system," Bell said. "It's difficult when you work hard for your things and someone takes them."
Bell is among Central Indiana residents dealing with the devastation of property loss caused by a sharp increase in burglaries this year.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) has moved Donta Pinner, 18, to the top of its most wanted list. Fingerprints may connect Pinner to at least eight different burglaries, including the one at Bell's home.
Recently a man in his 20s broke into Common Ground Christian Church, a northside congregation, and spent nearly two hours roaming the facility until he collected electronics, cash and credit cards he used on a nearly $1,000 shopping spree.
Just weeks ago residents at Brighton Park Apartments on the Northwest side of the city saw officers shoot at burglars who tried to run over them with a car in a getaway attempt. One of the burglars was wounded, and all were taken into custody.
According to police, burglaries have been on the rise among homeowners in Indianapolis, as well as suburban areas to the north such as Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville. The number of burglaries in Marion County has surpassed last year's total by 20 percent.
Some observers, including officials in suburban areas, believe the increase in burglaries is due mostly to more goods being placed in homes during the holiday season, as well as the nation's weak economy.
But others are convinced the cause is simply the classic desire for fast, easy money that comes from selling "hot" items on the street or stealing credit cards.
"Most of what we're seeing right now are young adults in their 20s trying to get a thrill and not a lot of people with families who are desperate and trying to support themselves," said David Allender, a major in IMPD's North District.
Burglary cases are hard to solve because most suspects use gloves or materials to conceal their fingerprints, and they observe a home or business carefully until they can strike at a quiet time when no witnesses are present.
Police, however, has recently created a tactical response team for burglaries designed to catch offenders within minutes after they leave the scene of a crime. Dozens of suspects in residential burglaries have been arrested in the past ten weeks, including 23-year old Jessie Lewis, a suspect in 30 burglaries that have taken place since late November.
During most of those burglaries, elderly people who live alone were awakened in their beds in the middle of the night and were forced to hand over their money, purses, valuables and credit card numbers. Fortunately taking a few simple steps and making smart choices can go a long way in preventing the loss of your property; or your life.
"You can help maintain your personal safety by having situational awareness, or being alert of what is going on around you and your neighborhood," said Sgt. Paul Thompson, IMPD spokesman. "One of the most important things you can do is avoid making your family or house a target for criminals."
Keith and Sherry Johnson have taken that message seriously and have been spared from unwelcome visits at their home near 30th Street on the city's Eastside,
"We haven't had anyone break in, but other people around here have been hit hard," Keith said while placing Christmas decorations in his yard. "We have an alarm system and strong locks."
The Johnson's have no illusion of safety, however, since they reside next to an abandoned house that attracts people selling and using drugs. Often these individuals who steal and sell items in order to support their habit.
"They go over there to smoke drugs, and we're just hoping that doesn't lead to violence or a fire," Sherry said. "We have stayed safe through the grace of God."