Crime & Courts

Home burglaries fall in Wichita, but business burglaries rise

After a nearly 10 percent increase in home burglaries last year, Wichita police set a goal of reversing the trend.

This year, through November, they are having some success. Home burglaries have fallen 3 percent, to 2,748, compared with the same 11-month period last year, said police Lt. Barry Von Fange.

But burglaries overall are up, because more commercial buildings are being broken into.

Commercial burglaries have increased from 842 in the first 11 months of last year to 1,065 this year. Much of that increase stems from a few suspects who were responsible for dozens of burglaries, Von Fange said.

Police mounted a concerted effort against burglars that included undercover work aimed at serial burglars and efforts to get suspects charged quickly and kept behind bars, Von Fange said.

In recent months, with the price of copper up, police have seen a spike in burglaries of unoccupied homes and businesses where thieves broke in to steal copper pipes and copper wire, he said.

Those break-ins do a lot of damage, he said, because although a burglar might get away with $30 worth of copper, the cost of replacing the plumbing or wiring can be thousands of dollars.

Owners of vacant property need to keep checking on their property, and neighbors need to report suspicious activity by calling 911, he said.

If you are away from home for an extended period, it's worth it to hire someone to mow the grass and pick up outside, he said.

"You always want to make your houses look like you're there."

Von Fange recommended these other steps to prevent burglaries or limit losses:

* Don't advertise on Facebook or other social networks that you're going on vacation.

* Use discretion when showing off your new 42-inch television set. The person you show it to could come back and steal it.

* Keep valuables out of sight when a work crew comes in.

* Lock doors, and don't leave your keys in your car. He estimates that 5 to 10 percent of burglaries stem from people not practicing that basic prevention.

* Engrave your driver's license number on television sets, electronic game components and laptop computers, and record the serial numbers and keep them in a safe place. That greatly increases the chance of police recovering the stolen items and solving the crimes, Von Fange said.

TVs, electronic games and laptops continue to be among the most frequently stolen items in Wichita. Hide remote controls; thieves might be less apt to take a TV if they don't have the remote control.

Because of the increase in the price of gold, jewelry is another hot item for burglars. "If it's expensive jewelry, it should be hidden, or it should be locked up someplace secure," he said.

* If someone knocks on your door, you don't have to open it, but let them know you are home by making noise, turning on lights or moving the curtains. Burglars often knock to see if someone is home before they come in.

* Even an inexpensive alarm system — some cost less than $100 — can be effective, he said. With an alarm sounding, a burglar won't stay for long, and losses will be limited.