'They knew exactly what they were doing'

'They knew exactly what they were doing'

Residents believe neighborhood is a targe for professional burglars.

Doug Ingram has a ladder for anybody who wants to buy it. It was left at his house after somebody attempted to burglarize his home earlier this month.

Ingram woke up one night and heard a pounding noise outside his house. "The first three poundings woke me up," Ingram said. He called the police, who arrived in 10 minutes. Nobody gained entry to Ingram’s home, although they had tried to knock out the door frame.

Some of Ingram’s neighbors in Potomac’s Camotop and Falconhurst areas are less fortunate. Lenny Sloan is among them. Last January, somebody entered Sloan’s home by removing a panel of glass siding, and proceeded to steal jewelry, leaving fur coats lying on the floor. "It was clear that they saw the safe … and they just didn’t bother," Sloan said. "They knew exactly what they were doing."

MANY RESIDENTS of Bentcross and Iron Gate are convinced that their neighborhood is being targeted by professional-caliber burglars. Five residents have reported burglaries on Bentcross Drive, Iron Gate Road or Ormond Road in 2006. More than 70 people, most of them residents of the Camotop and Falconhurst neighborhoods, came to Stephen and Theo Hayes’ home on Monday, June 19, to discuss strategies for preventing future burglaries and to seek advice from police.

County Councilmember Steven Silverman (D-At large) and three Montgomery County police officers, including District 1 Commander Darryl McSwain, came to hear the residents’ concerns and describe the efforts county police are undertaking to prevent robberies in the area.

"It’s not a fingerpointing thing," Stephen Hayes said.

McSwain said that three of the burglaries in June appear to be part of a trend or pattern. "It has become a priority for us," McSwain said.

One family described losing $300,000 worth of jewelry, a steel safe and designer pocketbooks. Another family on Bentcross said they called the police on a night jewelry was taken from their home, and the police arrived an hour later. An Irongate resident had mail stolen from his mailbox last month, after which someone attempted to change the address on his bank account and open a credit card account in his name.

"What didn’t we find yet?" he said.

UNTIL THE PAST month, the relative frequency of burglaries on Bentcross and Iron Gate were typical for Montgomery County. Between June 2005 and June 2006, there were 14 burglaries in the two police reporting areas. County-wide, there were more than 3,000 burglaries in 2005, a 33 percent increase from the previous year. At this point in 2006, robberies are occurring at a rate 10 percent higher than last year. "We are challenged," McSwain said.

County police detectives continue to investigate the open cases, McSwain said. He apologized to the family that waited an hour for police to arrive, and asked that everybody remember the limits and priorities of the police force.

Montgomery County police have fewer officers per 1,000 residents than other local jurisdictions. Montgomery operates with 1.19 officers per thousand residents, while the police force in Fairfax County, Va., has 1.35 sworn officers per every 1,000 residents. For every 1,000 citizens elsewhere in the region, Arlington County has 1.82 officers and the City of Alexandria has 2.29 officers.

McSwain said he had been a victim of a burglary, and knows what it’s like to come home and lose property. Later, he pointed out that sometimes police must devote their resources to more serious crimes.

"It’s another thing to have a man put a gun to your head and hope that you live."

MOST RESIDENTS REMAINED at the Hayes’ home after Silverman and police left. They wanted to discuss issues such as improving the neighborhood’s street lighting, and the possibility of private security.

"We don’t have an association, but we’re going to start one," Stephen Hayes said.

Reporter Brian McNeill contributed to this story.