Home break-ins could be a growing problem in Elkhart County

Posted on Nov. 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — A number of Elkhart County burglaries, robberies and other home invasion incidents in the past year have resulted in injuries or the deaths of homeowners and/or intruders.

The latest Elkhart County violent break-in left one man hospitalized with serious but non life-threatening injuries.

On Monday evening, Nov. 4, two men forced their way into the New Paris home of Donald and Beverly Neer.

The Neer’s son-in-law Brad Osswald said the two men had a tire iron and beat 82-year-old Donald Neer before leaving with several firearms, electronic equipment and some cash.

His father-in-law remained hospitalized Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 5, with a skull fracture, his neck broken in two places and a possible broken wrist, Osswald said.

“We’re very fortunate to even have him here today,” Osswald said.

Osswald, a deputy sheriff in Hamilton County, said his in-laws “most definitely” did the right thing in the face of the robbery.

“They had the doors locked but (the robbers) forced their way in,” Osswald said.

After the robbers left, the couple locked themselves in a bathroom with their remaining shotgun and waited for the police to arrive.

Osswald advised anyone faced with a home invasion to “give them what they want and let them out.”

Other high-profile cases of robberies and burglaries resulting in death or injury in the county include an incident on Oct. 7 in which an Elkhart woman was shot through the foot, a September 2012 attempted break-in that resulted in the death of 7-year-old Kristyana Jackson, and an October 2012 burglary in which a homeowner shot and killed one burglar.

At a community policing meeting at the Osolo Township Fire Department hosted by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday, Nov. 5, patrolmen Bryant Byler and Scott Frey said “residential entries” are one of the department’s biggest issues.

“We’ve been seeing a lot more robberies and burglaries over the past few months,” Byler said.

To protect their homes, the officers advised residents to keep doors locked and the exteriors of their homes well-lit.

Residents should also watch out for and report any suspicious people or vehicles that don’t belong in the neighborhood, Frey said.

Keeping a list of the serial numbers for all electronics, firearms and other expensive items is helpful in tracking them and the people who stole them, the officers said.

Elkhart county pawn shops send lists of the items they purchase to the sheriff’s department, where detectives check the serial numbers to see if any of the items have been reported as stolen.

“Those serial numbers help us solve more cases than anything,” Byler said.

Ed Windbigler, chief investigator for the prosecutor’s office, says these incidents, typically referred to as “home invasions” have been on the rise.

“I don’t think ‘home invasions’ is the technical term, but we have seen a lot more burglaries where the burglars are armed,” Windbigler said.

Windbigler said he couldn’t speculate on the cause of this increase but called it “a sign of the times,” adding that economic hardship is often a motive for burglary and robbery.

Capt. Kris Seymore of the Elkhart Police Department said people planning to break into a home will often monitor entire neighborhoods.

“Everyone has a different trigger,” Seymore said. “They’re opportunists. What makes one person want to break into a house will be different for another.”

This trigger is usually the idea that there is something of value in the home, said Elkhart County Chief Public Defender Cliff Williams.

“What I have seen is that in some of the home invasions there is a nexus,” Williams said. “There is some sort of connection, whether it’s real, imagined or perceived.”

In a sense, there seems to be a general lack of respect, with “people who do these things thinking less about the consequences and acting more in the moment,” Williams said.

“I think home invasions are more common than we would like them to be and I think that’s an indication of the desperation of the people doing these things,” he said. “There’s a desperation and a carelessness and a lack of boundaries.”

The increase or perceived increase in Elkhart County break-ins has been a boon for home security companies.

Tom Shoff, owner of Shoff Security Services Inc., has been in business for more than 30 years but has never been as busy as he is now.

Shoff said that from talking with clients he’s learned that many break-ins happen in the county between noon and 5 p.m.

However, Shoff said he was not sure whether home robberies and burglaries have been on the rise or the community is just paying more attention.

With more than 3,500 customers in the county, Shoff said only six attacks or break-ins that trigger home alarms happen each year.

“I’m probably doing three quotes a day right now. Oftentimes they say their neighbors got hit, and they don’t want to end up like them,” he said. “But 90 percent of the people who call are ones who have been hit. They’re inspired to call after the break-in has already happened.”

Chuck Spencer, president of NoBi Security and Fire Alarms, said his business picks up the most in the fall for a number of reasons.

The end of summer jobs, rising electric and heating bills and holiday shopping are all factors that could lead someone to burglarize a house, Spencer said.

“There are a lot of things that can play a part to make a home more attractive to criminals,” he said. “Especially as we move into the holiday season, you have a house full of new gifts.”

Spencer offered a few tips to help residents to further safeguard their homes against intruders.

Ÿ Change your daily routines so would-be burglars can’t figure out when you will be out of the house.

Ÿ Make sure all your doors, including garage doors, are locked.

Ÿ Keep the shades drawn on your windows so that people can’t see what’s in the house.

Ÿ Keep shrubs trimmed down away from basement windows. Overgrown shrubs can be a convenient hiding place for burglars.

Ÿ When safeguarding your home against burglars, remember that every obstacle you put in their way, such as extra locks, could be in your way if you needed to exit the house quickly in an emergency.

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