When the Sheriff's Office rolled out its 2009 crime statistics and boasted that crime had decreased more than 10 percent from 2008, one category stood out: burglaries. It was the only crime that was up.
The increase was slight — only 0.1 percent, or 10 more burglaries than the previous year. "Statistically insignificant," Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said.
But compared with other categories, such as assault, vehicle theft, homicide and robbery, which had all dramatically dropped, it was an anomaly.
The largest increase is in residential burglaries, the Sheriff's Office said. And a lot of those seem to be an effect of the recession, Gee said, especially when it comes to people stealing appliances and other items out of vacant and foreclosed homes.
"There's areas of Riverview, Palm River and those areas where there's just entire neighborhoods that are vacant," Gee said. "Some of the banks are doing a fairly decent job, and some of the banks are not doing a good job at managing their property."
A neighborhood breakdown shows Town 'N Country saw the most, with 833 reported in 2009. There were 761 in Brandon, 604 in the University area, 417 in Palm River/Clair-Mel and 361 in Egypt Lake.
Maj. Ronald Hartley, who oversees the county's southeast for the Sheriff's Office, said burglaries were especially high in 2009's first six months. He saw a concentration in the U.S. 301 corridor and South Brandon.
He and other sheriff's officials said burglars often work as loosely-organized groups. They kick in doors when they believe no one is home. Sometimes they'll knock or ring the doorbell first, he said.
Maj. Clyde Eisenberg, who oversees the northeast part of the county, said he has seen a concentration of burglaries of rural, middle- to upper-income homes.
Burglaries are usually crimes of opportunity, the majors said. Often, criminals won't bother with locked homes and vehicles with no valuables in plain view.
Hartley also encourages neighborhood watches and the Sheriff Office's Citizens Patrol. Citizen Patrols are local volunteer groups that patrol in specially-marked cars and aid deputies. They don't have arrest powers, but they have a radio and can call in suspicious activities.
"One of the reasons I think Sun City Center's crime is low is because there's a Citizens Patrol, and there's so many clubs and activities," Hartley said. "Everybody knows everybody."
Times staff writer Rick Danielson contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.