Yuletide thieves: Santa isn't the only one sneaking into homes during the holidays

Yuletide thieves: Santa isn't the only one sneaking into homes during the holidays

December 8th, 2011 by Kate Belz in News

Chattanooga Police Detective Rhonda Darling discusses the importance of recording items' serial numbers as she picks up pawn tickets from the Quick Cash Pawn Shop on Rossville Boulevard. Many shops electronically send in the tickets, which contain serial numbers and IDs of the seller or the pawner. The tickets allow police to track down stolen merchandise.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011 (as of October)

Burglaries: 2,756 / 2,868 / 2,624 / 1,831

Larceny (Thefts): 8,912 / 8,876 / 7,267 / 5,528

Auto thefts: 1,067 / 893 / 766 / 550

Source: Chattanooga Police Department


* Write down the serial numbers for all electronics, and take pictures of valuable items and jewelry. Don't store the numbers and photos on your computer in case that gets stolen.

* When you're going out of town, ask neighbors to keep an eye on your house. Leave on porch lights.

* Don't post travel plans on social media sites.

* Make sure the garbage can isn't left out in the road. Tear down boxes that may have contained electronics.

* Buy a camera surveillance system and install it outside your home.


* Don't ever leave your keys in your car unmonitored. Car thefts increase in the winter when people want to heat up their car in the driveway.

* Don't leave your purse or laptop bag in your car.

* Lock any GPS systems or iPod-type devices in your glove box when you're out of the car or take them inside with you.

* If you are running multiple errands, try to avoid piling bags and merchandise in clear view of the car windows.

* If you see something suspicious, report it to a merchant or security guard.

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

For Nathaniel Greene, the sickening feeling set in when he saw the broken glass.

After work on Nov. 27, Greene went to the gym, then out for drinks with friends. When he got to his Brainerd home after midnight, he found the back kitchen window shattered.

"They put a ladder up to my back kitchen window, broke it and came right in," said Greene, who always locks his doors. "They ransacked the house, flipped the mattress over, ripped the drawers out. They don't care, they just rip people's stuff out."

Thieves carried off $5,000 worth of goods, including two TVs, his laptop and several watches.

Greene is one of more than 1,830 burglary victims across Chattanooga so far this year, according to police records.

"There's not one problem area. Burglaries happen everywhere across the city," said Sgt. Becky Shelton, who oversees up the Chattanooga Police Department's Burglary and Fraud Division.

Figures show the number of reported burglaries has actually dropped over the last two years, bucking the traditional assumption that thefts skyrocket when the economy continues unstable.

"[Thefts] had gone up initially when the economy got bad, but they've gone back down," said Detective Rhonda Darling. She works in the pawn unit, which keeps an eye on local pawnshops to check for stolen goods.

Darling and other officials said they're unsure of what's behind the downward trend, though they said they've made several big arrests related to property crimes this year.

Regardless, police said property crimes always spike during the holiday season. Car break-ins dramatically increase as holiday shoppers leave their purses and expensive purchases in their vehicles for thieves to see and snatch.

Burglaries go up when more families are out of town, more homes stocked with sleek new electronic gifts, and more teens out of school.

"Some of the robberies and thefts may be gang-related. Others just want stuff," Shelton said. "A lot of the time, of course, they'll end up taking the stuff to a pawnshop."

That's where Darling steps in.

"Every single day I check to see what the latest burglaries and thefts are," said Darling. "We keep all of them in a database."

Each month, Darling makes rounds to the 13 pawnshops in the city. She collects hundreds of tickets that describe each item that has been sold or pawned, and who brought it in. State law requires pawnshops to keep these records.

Laws also mandate that any items sold to the shop must stay behind the counter for 20 days before being put up for sale, while any pawned items cannot be sold for 60 days.

That gives Darling and her unit the time to run the tickets through her database, which includes the serial numbers and descriptions of all reported stolen goods in the city. If there's a match, it's a big break in the investigation.

"It is always the best feeling to be able to track something down that a victim thought they'd never see again," she said.

But burglaries are traditionally some of the hardest crimes to solve. In 2010, only 226 of the city's more than 2,000 burglaries were cleared, according to records from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The biggest keys to tracking stolen goods are serial numbers, Shelton emphasized.

"I know it's frustrating for the victim, but if they didn't keep serial numbers, it's much harder to track their stuff down," Shelton said.

The most popular stolen items continue to be electronics: flatscreen TVs, laptops and video game consoles, police say.

The most common time frame for break-ins is during the work day, Shelton said.

"Burglars will scope out your daily patterns," she said. "They will knock on your door, and check entrances."

Greene said he feels as if he had been targeted for a while.

"There's definitely someone that had been watching," he said.

It's the second time Greene's home has been broken into in the last three years, and now he says he's installing an alarm system, and maybe getting a dog.

"I'm going to train him to attack [intruders]." Greene said. "I hope they find whoever did it before I do."