Many students at University of Georgia in Athens left town over the holiday break to spend time with family – which proved to be an opportunity for burglars. About 30 to 35 homes were burglarized between Dec. 14 and Jan. 7, according to Athens-Clarke County Police.
Investigators believe these crimes are connected. A majority of the break-ins happened when no one was home, said Geoffrey Gilland with Athens-Clarke County Police – the same time period UGA started winter break.
“I think this is an example of criminals being opportunistic,” Gilland said. “They might have realized students were away and this is a high-density area … which allows people to go through homes or apartments very quickly.”
Thieves targeted a pocket of apartments and homes on the eastern side of downtown Athens, police said. Many of the break-ins occurred at homes on Conrad Drive, Jonas Avenue, Ruth Street, Fern Ridge Court and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.
Investigators believe a group of teenagers might be behind the burglaries, but no suspects have been identified. Gilland said that it could be possible that one teen might act as a lookout while others break in to the home. Many of the items stolen were high-end electronics, including gaming systems and televisions.
In some cases, surveillance cameras and home burglary systems stopped the thieves in their tracks.
“We know the homes that had burglar alarms or surveillance cameras – the suspects avoided those homes,” Gilland said. “In one instance, the burglar alarm went off and they took off.”
He said Athens-Clarke County Police diverted resources to help boost patrols in the area while school was on break. A couple of times, officers on foot patrol were able to stop the break-ins as they were occurring and waited with property management companies to secure the homes before leaving.
“We weren’t sitting back. We were being proactive. We understood that, during winter break while students are away, we try to put as many officers as we can in those areas to prevent theft.”
In a statement to 11Alive, UGA said that, while Athens-Clarke County Police is responsible for investigating criminal activity, it provides housing information to students at orientation to help protect their property.
SAFETY TIPS INCLUDE:
- Doors should be made of metal or solid wood construction. Good deadbolt locks and peepholes are also a must.
- Make sure the management changes locks or permits the tenant to change them when moving in.
- Sliding glass doors should be secured with pins through the frame or have a "charlie bar" locking device.
- Apartments located on the second floor, or higher, are safer. Being on the ground floor makes entry through windows easy. Ground floor windows should be secured with pins through the frame or key lock latches.
- Hallways and stairwells should be well lit at night. Mirrors to help you see around hallway corners are also important.
- Bushes and shrubbery should be well maintained and cut back below window height to reduce the risk of attackers hiding in them.
- Is access to the complex limited to residents and guests?
- Is there on-sight security? Is there a neighborhood watch program?
- Have there been any burglaries in the complex, and if so, how did the burglars gain entry?
- Ask management about the availability of extra keys to your apartment. If there are extra keys, ask how they are secured and who has access to them.
- Ensure parking areas are well lit at night and afford a clear line of sight to your apartment door.
- Ask management if they have a policy against installing intrusion alarms in individual apartments. If not, installation of a simple alarm system might be a good option for additional security at a relatively low expense.
Anyone with information on the burglaries across Athens is asked to contact the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, or 911.