Police say owners should safeguard vacant homes

Friday, May 2, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ aeisenhauer@semissourian.com Police tape surrounds an abandoned home on S. Ellis Street on Tuesday, April 29, 2008 following an early morning fire in the building.

When Hazel Jackson of Cape Girardeau moved out of her South Benton Street residence so some basic repairs could be made, she didn't think the building would be vandalized.

When police told her some juveniles were in trouble for hanging out on her porch and accused of using drugs, she was concerned enough to have her son check on the residence.

She found evidence that a fire had started inside the house, one in a string of suspicious fires to afflict houses in Cape Girardeau, several of which were vacant like Jackson's residence at the time.

As summer approaches, crime rates, especially for property crimes, tend to increase. More people tend to stay outside later and more opportunities to commit crime may surface, said Sgt. Barry Hovis, spokesman for the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

Police caution those with vacant homes to safeguard their property carefully, considering the nine suspicious fires to occur this year within city limits. At least six of those fires were found to have been intentionally set, according to police.

One reason vacant buildings might attract more vandalism than an occupied residence is concealment, Hovis said. If someone can gain easy access to the building, it can provide a relatively safe haven for criminal activity, he said.

Police focus their concerns on making sure occupied buildings are well-protected, Hovis said, even more so after several of the most recent fires left one man dead and several more people searching for somewhere to live.

Police can sometimes keep an eye on vacant homes where they suspect criminal activity may occur, but generally they aren't in the business of providing personal security, though there are several local businesses that do so, Hovis said.

"It comes down to how much you value your assets. You may invest in a home security system," Hovis said, adding that the value of the building is usually a consideration.

There were 626 acts of larceny, or theft, committed in Cape Girardeau in the summer, June through August, compared to 316 from November 2006 to January 2007, and 46 from February to April.

Robberies and rapes reported remained fairly constant throughout the year, with actually a few less occurring during the summer, but property damage crimes spiked in June, July and August.

The number of nondomestic assaults, including fights, varied little throughout the year, with 96 from November 2007 to January 2008, 101 from June to August, and 112 in February through April.

Though patrolling stays constant during the summer unless there's a special event that needs extra security, Hovis said, the Cape Girardeau Police Department does have two of the its school resource officers freed up during the summertime for patrol duties.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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