BRANDON — Crime is down in eastern Hillsborough County this year, but one category is up: unarmed residential burglaries.
There has been an increase in break-ins, many of them occurring during the day when residents are at work, said local district commanders Maj. Ronald Hartley and Maj. Clyde Eisenberg.
The break-ins are not confined to any one area, but some of the worst spots south of Lumsden Road include South Brandon and the U.S. 301 corridor, south of Big Bend Road, Hartley said.
Eisenberg, whose district covers eastern Hillsborough County north of Lumsden Road, said criminals have been targeting rural mid- to upper-class homes.
One of the common modes of operation is for the criminals to knock on a door, and if nobody answers, break in either through the front door or from the back of the house.
The criminals work in loosely organized groups and avoid residents, the majors said. They aren't out to rob or attack people.
"They just want the property," Eisenberg said. Big-screen televisions are a big draw, he said, because they can be easily resold.
Often, criminals will go from car to car in apartment complexes, trying the doors. They skip the locked vehicles and take valuables from the unlocked ones, Hartley said.
"They call it car hopping," Hartley said.
Because the criminals want to quickly get in and out of cars and homes, the best way to deter them is to make it difficult.
Some of the Sheriff's Office's tips seem common sense: For instance, lock your doors.
Others may take some research. There are devices that stop sliding doors from opening and timers that will turn on lights at a certain time each day, giving the appearance that someone is home.
Eisenberg suggests an alarm.
"A dog is probably the best … a dog that barks," he said.
As for the Sheriff's Office, Hartley said deputies are conducting surveillance on problem areas, sometimes undercover. They want to deter crime and catch the people in the act so they can charge them.
Hartley said he's hopeful because the odds are in the deputies' favor.
"The bad guys have to be lucky every time," Hartley said. "I only have to be lucky once."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.