Police stress precautions to residents as Ann Arbor records 80 home invasions in 2 months
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
Last summer, Ann Arbor resident Anne Darnell noticed a service vehicle was stopped outside a neighbor’s house in the Orchard Hills-Maplewood neighborhood.
The neighbor was on vacation, so Darnell’s husband went to check what was going on while Anne Darnell called the neighbor.
It turned out the service call was scheduled, but that type of vigilance is what Police Chief Barnett Jones told a crowd was their best defense against being victimized during a wave of home invasions that has hit the city since Jan. 1.
Close to 150 people gathered for a meeting called by the Ann Arbor Police Department to discuss the issue Tuesday at Clague Middle School.
According to AAPD statistics presented at the meeting, 82 home invasions have been reported between the beginning of the year and Feb. 18. That’s up from 49 home invasions and commercial burglaries during the same period in each of the previous two years. Among the incidents this year, 35 involved intruders entering through unlocked doors and windows.
Jones and Detective Dave Monroe, who is assigned to all the cases, stressed residents should take basic precautions. Among them are locking all doors and windows, calling 9-1-1 upon seeing anything suspicious, getting to know neighbors, using auxiliary and stronger locks, locking doors inside garages, keeping up the appearance that someone is home even if no one is and investing in a home alarm system.
“You live in a relatively safe community, and don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t but we are not safe from crime, and that’s the discussion need to have this evening,” Jones said, underscoring that people need to lock and secure their homes.
“People are utilizing our goodness and the fact some don’t lock doors and windows to take advantage of all of us.”
Jones attributed the spike to several factors, including the economy and mild winter.
Monroe said police believe there are two to three small groups involved in the break-ins and some thieves are “homegrown” while others are coming from other communities, including one suspect who has been linked to Southfield.
“We are a destination community, meaning we have stuff,” Jones said.
Jones said one arrest was made in January and the suspect went through the legal system but was subsequently released. That person is wanted on a warrant, and Barnett declined to further discuss the case.
The home invasions have occurred throughout the city, though Monroe said slightly more have occurred toward the edges of the city. That could be because it provides an easy escape route to the freeways, Monroe said. He also said neighboring municipalities are experiencing an uptick in the number of home invasions and agencies were sharing information, though he didn’t provide statistics.
Barnett said break-ins have often occurred during the daytime hours. In many cases, the thieves are knocking on front doors or ringing doorbells. If there is no answer, then they are checking for open doors and windows.
In 33-percent of the cases, doors or windows were forced or pried open, according to the department’s statistics. None of the cases have included a weapon and no one has been hurt so far.
Jones said there have been instances where residents have seen people walking around and casing houses before breaking in, but neighbors never dialed 9-1-1 because they said they didn’t want to bother the police or weren’t sure that the stranger didn’t belong there.
In one case, a burglar entered the house of someone who was slow to answer a knock at an unlocked front door. When the homeowner confronted the would-be burglar, the suspect said they had accidentally entered the wrong home and left, but the resident didn’t call the police until the following day.
“When you see stuff out there that doesn’t belong, involve the people who you pay to keep you safe; the police,” Jones said. “Your police agency doesn’t mind responding to calls for service and all that about not having enough officers patrolling, that’s bahooey. We’re going to get there.”
Jones also said thieves are known to tell residents they represent a fake charity or pose like they are on a service or utility call.
Of the 82 reported home invasions, a small number involved intruders breaking glass, then reaching inside a home to unlock the door. Jones said residents should install bolt locks with an inch throw placed at least 40 inches from glass. Jones also suggested a type of adhesive that can be placed over glass to make it “as strong as steel” and a type of drop lock he said is employed by drug dealers because it makes it so difficult for cops to kick through doors.
Residents planning a vacation should have a trusted friend or relative pick up mail and fliers left on the doorsteps, Jones said. He suggested having relatives drive on driveways if there is snow to make it look like someone is home. He also told residents to limit the Tweets and Facebook posts that advertise they are out of town.
Jones and Monroe recommended residents try to give their house a “lived-in” look, even if they only are gone for a short time, by using timed lights. They said thieves are casing for homes that appear unoccupied.
“They are targeting certain houses for a reason - make it look like you are there,” Monroe said.
When questioned about carrying firearms, Barnett said Michigan residents have the right to carry concealed weapons with the proper paperwork and some are part of an open-carry group. But he said people who do legally carry guns should expect that officers will want see paperwork.
Like several others in attendance, Diane Leeland said her neighbor’s house had been among those broken into and she was on heightened alert over the last month.
“There’s nothing else you can do but be more aware,” she said. “A lot of the advice here was good advice, and doesn’t take much effort.”
Darnell said much of the information at the meeting was review and her family has discussed extra precautions like those discussed. She also said her street, which is one block from where a home invasion occurred, is tight-knit.
“We have a great street and we look out for one another,” she said.
She was surprised to learn how many home invasions have been reported, but said it was best the community knew about the issue.
“We can’t pretend it’s not happening,” she said.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify the number of home invasions in previous years.