Rash of burglaries keeping police busy

Rash of burglaries keeping police busy

URBANA — Despite the arrest last week of a teen who admitted he broke into a home and stole a car, detectives have loads of work ahead to determine if he's working alone or is one of several burglars disrupting the peace of mind of south and east Urbana residents.

With 52 residential burglaries citywide in 70 days since the first of December, police have been busy.

Of that number, 35 have been in south Urbana, an area bordered by Illinois Avenue on the north, Lincoln Avenue on the west, Philo Road on the east, and Windsor Road on the south. In the same three months a year earlier, there were 29 residential burglaries in the south part of town.

"This is a labor-intensive process. You have to read all the reports together, take bits from this case and compare them to bits from that case.

"That requires a detective with an eye for detail to compare all these different things," said Lt. Rich Surles, who heads up the Urbana police detective division.

It's a fact of life for detectives that the investigation of property crimes comes after crimes of violence against humans.

On the third weekend in January, for example, a violent home invasion in which a man was shot and the armed robbery and shootings of three people at a house party, refocused the attention of Urbana detectives from the spike in residential burglaries they were noticing in December and January. With arrests accomplished in both those cases, Surles has two detectives back at work on the residential burglaries and car thefts that emanated from them.

Despite plenty of evidence collected from victims' homes, don't even think that the state crime lab can work at the speed that labs on television detective shows do.

The state crime lab also has a triage system, Surles said. Cases with trial dates set take priority over those under investigation. Homicides trump burglaries.

DNA analysis — for instance, the burglar who helps himself to a beverage while working and leaves a can with his slobber behind — can take longer than a fingerprint comparison.

"They are doing us a service by providing us that forensic analysis," said Surles. "They have finite resources."

"Things like fingerprints also take time. We are able to get prints back faster if we ... can ask them to compare collected prints to a possible suspect versus the situation where they have to compare latent prints against every print in the computer."

"Just like with any other investigation of serial crimes, it's not necessarily being committed by the same person," said Surles. "Some of these investigations we don't get a lot of evidence. Others we do."

"One of the things we're doing is taking a fresh look at all the burglaries compared to each other and figuring out what pieces of evidence or information can we glean from one case that we can compare to another that might have more or different evidence so we can paint a much broader picture. We're investigating this collectively."

"It would be nice if you could just have a computer spit out the answer. A lot of times, information can't be quantified. It's nuanced. For example, footwear patterns. The only way to compare them is to look at the photographs," he said.

While police are doing that work, they are begging citizens to remain vigilant and defensive.

"It's super, super, super important for folks to call us when they see suspicious activity," he said.

Police have received several reports, days after the fact, of someone walking through a back yard or ringing a doorbell with a solicitation.

Hearing that days later simply doesn't help police much.

"Nobody should be walking through anyone's back yard. That is in and of itself a reason to call police. Folks need to understand that it's better for us to investigate activity and find out it's legitimate than to miss an opportunity for us to catch somebody committing a burglary or stealing something."

"If you're not sure you should call the police, just call us. We'll sort it out," he said.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Pointblank wrote on February 19, 2018 at 8:02 am
Profile Picture

Budget constraints at the crime lab hinder CSI detective work. Burglary is taken seriously as it should be, and it looks like anyone walking around is subject to an officer checking up. 

Citizen1 wrote on February 19, 2018 at 4:02 pm

Come on News-Gazette.  How many of these break ins were committed by the SA catch and release criminals?