On Friday morning, Sept. 1, Jacqueline Jones and her husband walked out of their home in the Hickory Vale subdivision of Great Falls and got into their SUV. As Jones sat down in the front seat, she noticed that the middle console was open but did not think much of it — until she saw the papers strewn all over the interior of the car.
"I asked my husband, 'did you do that?' and he said 'no, did you?'" said Jones. "That was when we realized that somebody had been in our car."
The couple could not recall if they had locked the car doors the night before. They had taken their dogs to dinner with them and Jacqueline Jones said she had been so busy getting the dogs out of the truck that she was not certain that she had locked the vehicle when she was done.
Fortunately, the couple did not have anything of great value in the vehicle and nothing was taken. However, both were disturbed by the fact that somebody had rummaged through their car, right in front of their house, in the middle of the night. Jacqueline Jones immediately thought back to earlier in the week, when a neighbor had called to inform her and her husband that a teenage boy had been lurking around on their property.
"Our neighbor was coming back into our development and he saw this teenager coming out of our bushes, and he was zipping up like he had just relieved himself," said Jones.
The neighbor told the boy to "move along" and then immediately phoned Jacqueline Jones and her husband.
"After he called we went outside with our dogs and went to the edge of our drive, and at that point we saw an old-model brown car sitting in front of our neighbor's house," said Jones. "There were three people in the car, and they looked to be young teenagers."
Unfortunately, there was not enough light to make out the tag numbers, and the car drove away. Neighbor Fred Baradari also noticed the same brown car on the corner of Nedra Drive and Stephanie Circle that evening.
"I even called the Fairfax police non-emergency number and was on hold for a good 20 minutes before I hung up," said Baradari. "There was a marked police cruiser with nobody in it parked on Stephanie Circle at the same time — maybe the officer had seen something or can remember the description of the car."
Jacqueline Jones and her husband were not the only people who had their cars broken into on the night of Aug. 31. Their next door neighbors' car was also opened — despite being locked and having an alarm system — and the radio was stolen.
MORE AND MORE residents of Great Falls are experiencing car and home burglaries, and many are alarmed at the increase in such incidents.
"We've been here six years and we've never had any problems," said Jacqueline Jones. "I feel like this is really on the rise and what they need to do is patrol more at night… we've lived here for so long and have always felt so safe, and I was just so startled by the whole thing."
Just a few weeks ago, "Jane Smith," who declined to give her real name for safety reasons, was shocked to discover that her home off Riverbend Road had been broken into during the afternoon. All of her jewelry was taken from her bedroom, and many of the pieces had significant sentimental value.
"My husband died eight years ago and his watch and wedding ring were taken, and all the jewelry that my mother had given to me before she passed away was taken — it's just heartbreaking," said Smith.
On the day of the break-in, Smith left for work in the morning, and then her usual cleaning crew came through the house. Her son came for lunch and noticed that the garage door was open. That night Smith discovered that her jewelry had been stolen. However, it was not until the next day that she went into her the sunroom and realized how the intruder had entered her home.
"They broke through the sliding glass doors in the sunroom and headed right to the master bedroom," said Smith.
The cleaning service employees told Smith that they had noticed a beige car "driving frantically up and down Riverbend Road," and Smith said that she recalled seeing a young man in the field behind her house on Monday afternoon.
"He had a backpack on and I thought, well he could be going to the park, but now I realize that he was probably walking out of my house with all of my jewelry," she said.
SMITH REPORTED the break-in to the police, but was disheartened by their bleak outlook on the situation. Smith asked if she should purchase a dog, but was told that a dog can simply be sprayed with Mace. She installed a security system but was told that it would provide limited help as thieves know that it can take up to 30 minutes for police to respond to a triggered alarm. However, what was most upsetting was their assurance that she would never see her jewelry again.
"The police said 'you'll never find them — it's gypsies,'" said Smith.
When Smith broached the idea of checking out local pawnshops, she received a similarly pessimistic response.
"They said 'oh there's no point in doing that, you'll never find it — it's gone,'" said Smith.
Just two weeks after her house was broken into, someone broke into her son's car and stole cash and an American Express gift card.
"The detective said it was not worth writing up," said Smith.
Smith and many other Great Falls residents are frustrated by the fact that they can be so easily victimized and violated, yet seem to have no recourse for retaliation.
"I'm not the kind of person who likes to give up," said Smith. "I like to at least try… Great Falls is changing — I didn't even know that there were all these break-ins going on."
One night in June, 16 cars and three homes off of Georgetown Pike were broken into in just four hours. "John Doe," another neighbor who declined to give his real name for safety reasons, was one of the residents victimized during the spree, and said his car alarm did nothing to deter the thieves.
"They knew what they were doing," said Doe. "Obviously this area needs to do something about its gang problem, apart from pretending that one does not exist. We are in the top percentage of tax payers in the area — for what is our tax money being used if not keeping its residents safe?"
ACCORDING to local crime prevention officers, the best way to deter criminals is to be vigilant. At a Neighbors International community safety luncheon in February, Capt. Mike Vencak of the Reston District Station, urged residents to always be aware of their surroundings
"What's suspicious is anything that's suspicious to you," said Vencak. "It comes back to what you see, and if you can get a license plate number, then that's the best thing."
Vencak also emphasized the importance of locking cars, closing garage doors and making sure houses are locked at all times — even when stepping out to run quick errands.
"A lot of this is common sense, but you'd be surprised at how many people leave their doors unlocked," said Vencak. "The key is to be aware of your surroundings... I don't think there is any place in the country that's safe enough to leave your door unlocked and your windows open. A lot of criminals are local."
Vencak said that any suspicious persons should be immediately reported to the police non-emergency line because the more information they receive, the more leads they will have.
"I can only go on what's reported to us," said Vencak.
Crime prevention officers from the McLean District Station offer similar advice, and encourage residents to use their local Neighborhood Watch programs to be vigilant. In addition, officers from the McLean District Station will come, free of charge, to individual homes to offer detailed security improvement advice.
"We can come to your house and look at your property and tell you where certain lighting will help, whether your bushes are a security hazard, or whatever other things you can do to make your house less inviting to criminals," said Officer Patrick Lucas, a crime prevention specialist in the McLean District Station.