Wichita police have broken up a large burglary ring linked to 250 cases and involving more than two dozen people, the majority of them high school students.
Police announced the arrests Thursday. The first of two "ring leaders" pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges last week and the second faces a jury trial next month, according to the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office.
"We've noticed a definite decline in burglaries" since the ring was broken up three weeks ago, Capt. Jeff Easter said.
The home burglaries and vehicle break-ins occurred in neighborhoods around north and east Wichita, as far back as 2009.
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One of the group's leaders, Jonathan Thompson, pleaded guilty last week to two counts of burglary and six counts of theft. He is set for sentencing on June 22.
A co-defendant, Jordan Smith, is scheduled to go on trial next month. Police are still looking for a third person suspected of having a major role in the ring, Easter said.
Criminal charges have been brought in 35 cases, he said. Police think the ring is responsible for at least 250 burglaries involving about $225,000 in losses.
A total of 16 people have been arrested in connection with the burglaries, Easter said: four adults and 12 juveniles.
The teenagers would break into houses — typically breaking windows or forcing doors to gain entry — and then take stolen property to Smith, who would sell them to friends or at the flea market at Pawnee and Meridian, Easter said.
He would then split the profits with the juveniles who performed the break-ins.
Authorities are concerned about the number of juveniles involved in the ring, Easter said.
"There was a lot of them that didn't have other things to do," he said. "They were taking off during school hours to commit burglaries, and coming back to school."
The teens primarily went to two public high schools in Wichita, Easter said, but their involvement was linked to where they lived, not where they went to school.
Most of the juveniles involved are gang members, Easter said, but the burglaries were not connected to gang activity. The participants were just looking for ways to generate cash.
Susan Bane, president of the Ken Mar Neighborhood Association, said she was thrilled to learn that the arrests had been made.
"I was so excited about that," Bane said. "It really affected a lot of people."
Bane estimates that Ken Mar, an area west of 13th and Oliver, was hit by more than 50 burglaries since 2009.
Her mother had lived in the neighborhood since 1955 and had never had any crime until someone broke into her house while she was across town having dinner with family in 2009.
That fit the burglars' pattern: they would wait until a homeowner left and then break in.
"They were watching the neighborhood pretty close" to know when people were gone, Bane said.
Last May, officers began noticing a pattern in how many burglaries were being done, Eater said. They identified suspects who had a history of using those methods and began tracking them.
A task force involving resources from multiple departments was formed, he said, and officers began collecting fingerprints and DNA from blood left behind when burglaries broke windows to get inside.
Thieves targeted anything they could readily carry out through a door or window, Easter said, but favored items such as big-screen televisions, mini-bikes, stereos, computers, compact disks, DVDs, sub-woofers, and Sony PlayStations.
Summertime typically sees a surge in burglaries because residents are prone to leaving garage doors up at night or windows open to allow cooler air inside, police officials have said.
Authorities plan to increase efforts to remind homeowners to take basic steps to discourage burglars, Easter said.