Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

TOP STORY >>Night shift works an area burglary, gives out advice

Leader staff writer

With his pistol drawn, a deputy enters through a residence’s side door just kicked in by a burglar apparently scared away by a piercing alarm, which was still blasting away. Once inside, Tim Hibbs and Michael Lett, Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department investigators, took turns covering each other and clearing each room of the house located off Hatcher Road Friday afternoon. Both men were prepared for the possibility of using deadly force on a burglar if necessary.

Those few tension-filled moments of unknown dangers get the adrenalin pumping as this reporter with camera in hand waits for an ‘all-clear’ signal or possibly an exchange of bullets if a gun-toting burglar should resist arrest. Before being dispatched to the burglary, Hibbs, who helps man the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office North Center, had instructed this reporter, “Do not hesitate to jump over here in the driver’s seat and take off if something goes wrong while we’re out on a call.”

After a few minutes ticked away slowly, the two deputies reappeared outside, transforming the incident scene into a more informal gathering of evidence as the investigation began to collect possible fingerprints and shoeprints as well as contacting the homeowner about the burglary attempt. Just inside the house, pieces of wood splintering upon the impact of a burglar’s foot kicking in the door could be seen. By this time, a third deputy took up his duties to collect crime scene evidence through forensics work. While dusting the door, a partial track of the burglar’s shoeprint appeared.

Brian Wise, the third deputy at the scene of the burglary, turned around saying, “The size of the print looks like it came from a person of small stature, maybe a female or a teen.” Hibbs also later explained that the “partial track” could become crucial evidence if or when a suspect is developed in this case. “A shoeprint can almost be as good as a fingerprint,” Hibbs said.
While standing under the carport, an expensive kayak padlocked behind the house was left behind as well as a lot of other items inside the house, according to the deputies. They could not say for sure if any items had been taken until the burglary victim could arrive back home but they believed that the alarm had thwarted the burglary attempt.

“That alarm just paid for itself,” Hibbs said. Other aspects of the investigation included photographing the crime scene, both by a digital camera and a camera load with actual film, and conducting a canvas of the neighborhood. Both types of cameras are being used just in case the judicial system rules out the use of the digital photographs. “We both know how easily digital photos can be altered,” Hibbs said.

Canvassing the neighborhood out on Hatcher Road lasted only a few minutes since the Hatcher Road residence is somewhat isolated. Hibbs contacted two nearby homeowners. One of them told Hibbs she had heard the burglar alarm go off in the past but I had not heard it this time.

A man up a road off Hatcher Road said his dog had started barking a few minutes ago so he came out to check on what might be going on. He told Hibbs that it sounded as if the dog was barking at someone coming up through the area but he had not seen anyone. This year to date, more than 70 burglaries have been reported to the North Center substation of the PCSO. Hibbs encourages all citizens to report any unusual activities in their neighborhoods. In fact, he says he loves “nosy neighbors” who will call 911 to report any unknown persons or suspicious vehicles in their area.

“We can have marked cars driving right by a house being burglarized,” Hibbs said. “Nosy neighbors know what car belongs and who belongs there or not.” Hibbs also recommends all homeowners should invest in burglar alarms. “We would rather answer 100 false alarms because if just one leads us to a burglar it’s worth it,” Hibbs said. He also says that getting a “big dog” that will ferociously bark when strangers come around is a good way to keep burglars away. Burglars like the least resistance possible in order to get in and out without being noticed, according to Hibbs.

As for dead-bolt locks, residences are still not completely secured from being burglarized. “You put the foot to a standard door on a home and it will go,” Hibbs said. It is even worse for mobile-home dwellers. Hibbs described them as being far less secured. “My mother could even break into a mobile home,” Hibbs said. Being so spread out, response time is longer than in a city’s police department. It took about 12 minutes to get deputies out to the Hatcher Road residence on Friday. The North Center district’s eight deputies patrol an estimated 100 square miles of unincorporated area of Pulaski County.

“We had 12 deputies but we lost four of them to a budget cut about a year and a half ago,” Hibbs said. Hibbs refers to several deputies manning the “400” as “treasures” due to their detailed knowledge of the unincorporated area of Pulaski County, which they not only work in but also live in. Per “radio talk,” the ‘400’ refers to the North Center.

Hibbs believes the answer to property crimes is prevention through neighborhood crime watches and notifying law enforcement agencies about going out of town and making sure to place a stop on mail before going on vacations. “Only about 30 percent of property crimes are successfully prosecuted,” Hibbs said.

Asked about the jail overcrowding issue and those burglars recently arrested, Hibbs said If it’s a property crime, I guarantee they’re not there. We’re just not holding property crime offenders now. Hibbs admits that PCSO needs assistance from the public to curb criminal activities. “Every citizen should be engaged in watching out for others,” he says. Hibbs is a 13-year veteran of the PCSO. Hibbs’ older brother is none other than the former Jacksonville police chief Larry Hibbs.