Burglaries can baffle police
"Burglary is unlike violent crime," said Lt. Tim Hiers, head of the Janesville detective bureau. "In virtually all violent crimes (except for some homicides), you have eyewitnesses, whether it's the victim or other eyewitnesses.
"Although everyone wants physical evidence and DNA, it's still important to have someone who witnessed the crime," Hiers said.
Unless the burglar has an accomplice, that's rare.
This year, police are likely to have more burglaries to investigate.
The 346 break-ins reported through August this year puts the city on a pace for an annual total of about 519, which would be up from the 431 reported in 2007 but just about match the five-year average.
Hiers had no explanation for why burglaries dropped last year, but he and other brass at the department attribute most Janesville burglaries to drug users needing money for drugs.
"It's no different than what we've found in the past," Hiers said. "Either the property is exchanged for drugs or sold for cash to buy drugs."
A couple of years ago, a Janesville police department survey showed a high correlation between drug use and property crimes.
The department randomly picked 120 people involved in property crimes, such as burglary and theft, and found 46 percent had histories of drug arrests or involvement.
Sixty drug users chosen at random had histories of property crime, according to the survey.
The 431 burglaries in 2007 were among 68,383 reported police activities, ranging from one water rescue to 10,016 traffic stops, according to the yearly report.
Because witnesses to burglaries are scarce, "physical evidence is what solves burglaries—fingerprints, DNA," Hiers said.
Janesville police recently made an arrest in 2002 burglary because DNA recovered from that crime scene finally matched DNA recorded in a database, and a 2005 burglary was solved because a fingerprint found at the scene finally matched a print entered in a database, Hiers said.
Eyewitnesses and tips to CrimeStoppers also help police solve burglaries, the detective said, but usually police are left with little or nothing to investigate.
And solvability—based on evidence, suspects, witnesses and/or tips—is what prompts local police to pursue burglaries, not the amount of what was stolen, Hiers said.
Without at least one of those elements, burglary reports typically are flagged with the phrase: "No follow-up recommended."
But even without any of those factors, the department will list burglaries that resulted in substantial losses on the CrimeStoppers tip line because thieves are more likely to brag about big scores, Hiers said.
Police regularly check with local pawnshops, the operators of which are required to record the property they accept and from whom, he added.
While burglary is tough for the police to solve, let alone prevent, it is not tough for residents to keep themselves from being victims.
"People still do break into garages, residences and vehicles to steal property. And people still do cut (window) screens. But they also go through unlocked doors," Lt. Tim Hiers said.
"People still leave their keys in vehicles. People still do leave purses in cars. But you can reduce your chances of being a victim of burglary and theft by locking your doors," Hiers said.
Janesville police have pamphlets available outlining tips on how to prevent burglaries.
The literature is available at the department, 100 N. Jackson St., or by calling Sgt. Brian Donohoue, the department's crime prevention specialist, at (608) 755-3133 or (608) 755-3077.