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Neighbors big help to police in break-ins

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When police investigated a string of burglaries at the Franklin United Methodist Community, they put the neighborhood on alert and started working to track down the burglar.

Information from family members led police to a suspect, Zachary Neff. Blood police recovered in one of the burglarized homes confirmed he was there. Police were able to recover several items of jewelry that were taken and tracked down others that had been sold to a local gold buyer. Earlier this year, Neff pleaded guilty to two charges of burglary and is now serving 10 years in prison.

Tips from friends and family and DNA evidence helped police solve that case, making up one of about 40 burglary charges that are filed each year.

But break-ins still remain some of the hardest crimes to investigate and solve. Fewer than half the cases end in an arrest, Sheriff Doug Cox said.

That’s why police are more frequently asking the community for help with information and making people aware about break-ins in their neighborhood.

Police were seeking help earlier this year when multiple cars, including the county coroner’s vehicle, were broken into near Whiteland, leading to a town officer spotting the suspicious car a day later.

County deputies asked for help to try to get details about a break-in near Center Grove High School where burglars tied up the homeowners at gunpoint, which is still unsolved.

Greenwood police told people to keep an eye out after someone was stealing car batteries out of vehicles at an apartment complex.

Alerting the community can be the first step police take after a rash of break-ins that occur in one night or if a certain area has been hit multiple times.

Getting information out has a twofold benefit: Residents pay more attention if they live in an area that’s been targeted or may call in with information about something they saw but didn’t think much of at the time, Franklin Police Lt. Kerry Atwood said. Most home break-ins occur during the day when kids are at school and adults are at work, so retired residents or stay-at-home parents become key in preventing break-ins, he said.

For example, within the past week a Center Grove area man was arrested after police said he was taking jewelry and electronics out of his grandmother’s house without permission. A neighbor saw two men carrying items out of the house, knew that no one should be there and called police. A deputy was able to stop the car before it got out of the neighborhood.

Vigilant neighbors are the top defense against burglars, since they’re most likely to notice someone suspicious, Cox said. A person who calls police immediately can help officers catch someone in the act or stop them before they’re able to get away, he said.

Police also get calls about car break-ins from someone who wakes up overnight or comes home late. Thieves go down the block trying to open unlocked car doors and take whatever is inside and are spotted, Atwood said.

If police can’t stop the burglary, DNA and fingerprint evidence have become the most valuable tools for making an arrest. People who commit burglaries, break-ins or thefts typically do it often to try to get money to support a drug habit, Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper said. If they’ve been in jail or prison before, their fingerprints and DNA will be on file with the state database, so police can try to find a match.

“Burglars can’t stay out of trouble, so usually they can’t stay hiding for long,” Cox said.

Finding DNA evidence at the scene can allow police to track a person down, but the process can take several months while the Indiana State Police lab runs the test. During that time, a person could be out breaking into several more homes, Cox said. For example, Neff had been arrested on a theft charge earlier in the summer before the Methodist Community break-ins and was arrested again in the fall in Greenwood when a person caught him trying to break into a car.

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