Rural break-ins on rise

Leaving doors unlocked when you are away from home is no longer an option — no matter where you live.

Rural residential burglaries in Bartholomew County are up 64 percent during the first four months of this year, according to Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department statistics.

Many of the break-ins in remote country settings have occurred during the day when the homeowner is at work, Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said.

If no one answers after knocking on the front door, the culprits frequently go to the back door and break it open, Myers said.

But if someone answers, they give a false reason for being there and leave, he said.

While small-town residents have a reputation for looking out for their neighbors, they also have busier lifestyles and worry about being perceived as a nuisance if they call the sheriff’s department, the sheriff said.

“They presume we’re busy with other things and don’t want to bother us, but that’s what we’re there for,” Myers said. “We would much rather you call, and it turns out to be nothing, than not call and it turns into a crime.”

After taking his law enforcement concerns to residents of Clifford, Hope and Elizabethtown earlier this year, Myers has scheduled two more upcoming community meetings.

The next meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Southwest Fire Department in Ogilville. Another will take place at 6 p.m. June 16 at the German Township Fire Department, 9428 Main St., Taylorsville.

Drugs driving increase

So why have rural burglaries gone up this year? Drug addiction is a key reason, Myers said.

“These people get addicted to methamphetamine and heroin; and in order to supply their habit, they are going out stealing, breaking into homes, and then pawning that stuff off,” Myers said.

Although the last residential burglary in the Hope area happened late last year, there have been several vehicles that have been broken into, Hope Town Marshal Matt Tallent said. He added that electronics seems to be the target of many thieves.

“It’s quick cash for these people who can take a stolen TV up to some place like Greenwood and pawn it off,” Tallent said.

Since the vast majority of Bartholomew County was zoned residential up until 2008, many homes in remote areas without ties to agriculture were constructed outside established towns and subdivisions.

“We’ve got tons of homes out in the country,” Tallent said.

That gives criminals who are concerned about being spotted by neighbors many more opportunities, Myers said.

While home security systems are encouraged by law enforcement, many families can’t afford them.

And since there are times when only three deputies are assigned to patrol 700-plus miles of county roads, it’s up to rural residents to help protect neighbors when they are away from home, Myers said.

“That’s why we are pushing neighborhood watch programs,” Myers said. “If we watch out for each other through community policing, we can get these burglaries reduced in the county.”

Listening at town meetings

Myers has been pleased with the attendance and feedback he’s received during town meetings held this year.

“We assure them if they see anything suspicious, their calls can be anonymous,” the sheriff said. “A major part of community policing is creating relationships where the residents trust us.”

Many of the concerns Myers has heard from county residents are the same ones he heard when he worked with the Columbus Police Department, he said.

“Speed is always the major concern,” Myers said. “And this time of year, you will see an increase in accidents out in the county, especially among younger drivers.”

One of the worst areas in northeast Bartholomew County for both speed and accidents is County Road 450N, also known as Nortonburg Road, Tallent said.

Besides inquiring about speed limits for specific areas, residents of Clifford, Hope and Elizabethtown frequently ask for deputies to be present where speeders zip by near their homes, the sheriff said.

“All of our speeding complaints are on our side streets, not down State Road 9,” said Tallent. “If we sit on the highway, they slow down when they see us.”

To address the issue, the Hope Police Department is placing an automated speed sign in different areas of town to gauge what speeds are when officers aren’t around, Tallent said.

Due to limitations on manpower and finances, the sheriff says that’s easier said than done.

“Right now, we are reactive, which means we can just respond to calls,” Myers said. “We aren’t able to do many proactive things, such as running radar in different parts of the county or driving through some neighborhoods.”

Another proactive activity that Myers feels is needed in rural areas is having suspected areas of drug activity under observation.

The sheriff says he intends to address the manpower issue with the Bartholomew County Council during budget discussions late this summer and early this fall.

“But it’s not something we will be able to fix overnight,” Myers said. “Right now, we need citizens and neighbors to be our eyes and ears, because if they don’t call, there will be more crimes and we will continue to only be reactive.”

If you go

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers has scheduled the following community meetings this month:

Ogilville: 6 p.m. Saturday at the Southwest Fire Department, near State Road 58 and County Road 525S.

Taylorsville: 6 p.m. June 16 in the German Township Fire Department, 9428 Main St.   

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.