Thursday, October 2, 2003

Crime on rise in suburbs

Police warn of surge in ID, purse thefts

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TWP. - Identity thieves pilfering residential mailboxes and burglars snatching purses out of homes are prompting suburban police to step up patrols and shaking neighbors' sense of security.

In Butler County's Liberty Township, sheriff's deputies are warning residents not to mail checks from their homes. There have been 15 to 20 reports of thefts of outgoing checks from mailboxes since spring and two reports in the last 10 days, according to Monte Mayer, sheriff's spokesman.

Police in neighboring Fairfield Township are investigating whether the problem is spreading to their territory, where fraudulent checks and other forms of identity theft also are on the rise, said Police Chief Richard St. John.

And in West Chester, burglars are grabbing purses off kitchen counters as neighbors sleep.

Purse thefts also have occurred from vehicles in residential garages in Anderson, Symmes and Sycamore townships, said Steve Barnett, spokesman for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. In those cases, however, suspects have been identified and arrests are expected soon, he added.

"The street crime you might associate with living in an urban setting is not what you are going to experience living in the suburbs, but that doesn't mean the suburbs are crime-free," St. John said.

Police and postmasters recommend mailing bills, checks and other envelopes containing money and/or personal information from post offices, the large blue mail boxes on street corners or from their place of business.

"When that red flag goes up on your mailbox, that's just a signal to them checks are in there," said Jerry Scrivner, a crime prevention officer with the Butler County Sheriff's Office substation in Liberty Township.

Documents or mail containing personal information also should be shredded or ripped into multiple pieces before disposal.

In Fairfield Township, detectives are investigating a half-dozen open identity theft cases, some that may have begun as check frauds, totaling tens of thousands of dollars.

Over the past year, West Chester police have had a continuing problem with purse-snatchers who victimized harried suburban moms as they dropped off their children at daycares.

Now, there are purse thefts in homes in the middle of the night, said Sgt. Steve Oakes. The fourth report in a month came in over the weekend.

In each case, the burglar slips inside homes via open windows or unlocked doors, targeting purses or wallets in open view.

Cyndee Buttrey left her brown shoulder purse sitting on her kitchen counter - near her open kitchen window inside her Kingsgate Way condominium - when she went to bed late Sept. 21.

The next morning, the purse was gone.

Her purse held about $20 in cash and credit cards and checks. She had to cancel her credit cards and checks - and plans to start standing in countless lines soon to replace all her stolen identification.

But what bothers her most is that the criminal was in her condo while she, her husband and their 41/2-year-old son, Jarret, slept upstairs.

"Every once in a while, we've had kids get into cars and steal change. I just consider that minor pilfering. But to enter the home is scary," said Buttrey, 42, a stay-at-home mom. "We never heard a thing. We have a small child. What if they had had ulterior motives?"

Police recommend purses be kept out of sight and windows closed and locked overnight. Extra patrols will be added soon to help curtail the problem, Oakes added.


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