GALLIA COUNTY — While many in the area have been enjoying the summer vacationing and spending time with family, others have been contending with the loss of property and the violation of having their own homes broken into.
Gallia County Sheriff Joe Browning on Monday said deputies in Gallia County have been busy attempting to track down those responsible for dozens of area burglaries thus far this summer, nine of which have occurred within the county since July 1.
As families spend time vacationing and are away from home, including time spent at festivals such as the Gallipolis River Recreation Festival this past weekend, local thieves and burglars have been preying on area residences, entering homes and stealing televisions, jewelry and other electronic equipment.
“Mostly what we have seen are stolen TVs, jewelry and, on one occasion, camera equipment — whatever they can take quickly to exchange for cash and drugs,” Browning said. “Almost all were daytime events occurring when the homeowner is away. We feel that we need additional personnel to help stop the criminal activity that feeds these crimes.”
Browning reported that, along with the several theft calls reported just this past weekend and the numerous burglaries reported in July, the total number of burglaries in June was also high, with as many as 40 incidents reported countywide.
The burglaries are also widespread, occurring in rural areas in the southern end of the county, as well as in the more northern parts of Gallia, according to Browning. On one occasion, a homeowner observed a blue van with an unknown West Virginia tag pulling out of his driveway, Browning stated. It is this type of information, he said, that can be helpful to the deputies attempting to investigate these crimes — information often gleaned from vigilant neighbors watching for suspicious activity.
“A common tactic burglars are using is knocking on the door of a residence before trying to break in,” Browning said. “Residents are reminded to lock doors, windows and garages and to be vigilant in reporting suspicious activity. Help your neighbor if possible by noting if a suspicious car is in the drive or parked nearby. Burglary is a crime of opportunity. Burglars will often go for the easiest way in.”
The driving force behind these string of home invasions is drug abuse, according to Browning — an epidemic that his staff is forced to deal with on a daily basis as they attempt to combat thefts and break-ins throughout the county.
“Drug abuse, especially the use of heroin and pills as well as meth, is driving these recent burglaries. Drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions and is the leading cause of accidental deaths in Ohio,” Browning said. “Decreasing the supply and demand for these drugs has become a daily, if not an hourly battle for our staff and has led to us searching for new and innovative ways to stay ahead of the game.”
With the recent formation of the Major Crimes Task Force of Gallia and Meigs counties, strides are being made combat the problem, but more resources are needed, according to Browning, including personnel who can be assigned specifically to decrease the tide of drugs coming into the county.
“We have begun participating in a Gallia-Meigs County joint drug task force, but found that funding restrictions limit the amount of time we can assign a deputy to this program. The task force has done great work so far, but much more has to be done,” Browning said. “We have also placed two new drug dog detecting teams out in the county — they are paid for by prior drug forfeiture monies. I hope to stem the tide and move these drug sellers out of our area by making it difficult to operate and unable to do business here.”
Browning further pointed to the number of tips and phone calls his office receives as a means by which to investigate and work on drug enforcement in the area, encouraging the public to contact his office when they observe suspicious behavior.
“We receive many tips from the public which really drives our enforcement effort,” he said. “Our tip line is 740-446-6555. You can leave a tip on there at any time and it will remain anonymous.”
The sheriff further provided a few tips of his own for local home owners who can work to make their homes a less attractive target for potential burglars. They are as follows:
- Create the appearance that you are home by using timers on lights, radios and televisions.
- Keep the perimeter of your home well lit. Motion sensor lighting or thermal sensor lighting should be used illuminating all possible points of entry.
- Keep doors and windows locked. Over 30 percent of burglaries are through an open door or window. Doors should have dead-bolt locks with at least a 1-inch throw and a reinforced strike plate with 3-inch screws. All windows should have locks.
- Keep shrubbery trimmed away from entrances and windows.
- Secure sliding glass doors with a metal bar in the track. This prevents the door from being forced open or lifted from the track.
- Lock the garage door. Do not rely on the garage door opener. Especially if your gone for an extended time period.
- Know your neighborhood. Get to know your neighbors that surround your house. Neighbors who communicate regularly are more likely to report suspicious activity to law enforcement. Let a trusted neighbor or relative know if you are going away.
- Do not leave clues that you are away. Burglars look for uncollected trash, newspapers, mail and deliveries. Stop your paper and mail delivery. Ask a neighbor to take in any unexpected deliveries left at your door until you return. Do not leave a message on your answering machine or on social media that says you are away.
- Do not hide keys under mats, above ledges or in planter boxes. Experienced burglars will check these places.
- If you see something that may be suspicious, call the sheriff’s office at 740-446-1221. Many times after a burglary, a neighbor will say that they saw or heard something and wished they called the sheriff’s office. Concerned neighbors are our best source for crime prevention.