How safe is your home?

By Alicia Banks and Rebecca Clark

Freedom News Service

Sarah Peay sits on the couch in her tidy living room. There’s an empty spot where a TV once sat.

Peay said a stranger broke into her home through a back bedroom window and carried out a flat-screen TV, riffled through her 12-year-old daughter’s purse and perused the contents of her closet. She struggles to keep the emotion out of her voice when she talks about the thefts.

“I work and I come home, and that’s all I do,” Peay said. “I struggle for everything that I have.”

She worries for her and her daughter’s safety. Her peace of mind is gone.

A year ago, Peay moved to a neighborhood on Hamrick Street in Shelby to be closer to her job.

“It’s quiet here,” Peay said. “Everybody seemed to be nice.”

In the year since she moved into the home, it has been broken into twice; once in May 2011, and again this year. Shelby Chief Jeff Ledford said police were able to identify a suspect and made an arrest in the first break-in.

The second case is still open.

The first time it happened, Peay tried to remain optimistic.

Then, it happened again.

“I’m losing all my faith in humanity,” she said, fighting back tears.

Peay is one of hundreds in Cleveland County who have had their homes broken in to. Law enforcement agencies in the county reported 767 home break-ins in 2011. Agencies have picked up on what thieves aim for when they ambush a home.

What are thieves targeting?

Typically, Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman said, when a thief breaks into a home, it’s a “quick grab.” Electronics, from televisions to video game consoles, and jewelry are popular items stolen from inside a home.

Most local agencies saw a decrease in reported break-ins from 2008 to 2011.

In 2008, Kings Mountain Police Department reported 56 break-ins. That number increased in 2011 to 93. Kings Mountain Police Chief Melvin Proctor said a rise in home break-ins could coincide with economic hardships.

“That’s the current state people are in. They’re needing money. It doesn’t make it right,” he said.

Some investigations uncovered people staging break-ins involving rental property. Some people will claim rented items were stolen from their home, a way to keep the property for themselves, Proctor said. He called the illegal strategy “secreting personal property.”

In other situations, some thieves travel by bicycle or a scooter instead of using a vehicle to haul stolen items. They’ll stash the goods inside of a backpack to appear less suspicious, according to Proctor.

“It’s a new trend with breaking and enterings,” he said.

Working in groups?

Thieves aren’t just breaking into homes to have the stolen goods. Some are using the stolen items for trade.

“That’s one thing we’ve seen a lot of. Folks are selling what they get and reinvesting that money back into drugs,” Ledford said. Boiling Springs Police Chief Randy Page said his officers have worked similar cases involving trades for drugs. Boiling Springs has seen a steady decrease in home break-ins in the last four years.

“That’s why our emphasis has been heavy on patrol,” Page said.

Ledford said that frequently with break-ins, it’s not just one person, but a small group of people working together.

“A lot use female lookouts,” Ledford said. Women don’t attract as much attention.

A Cleveland County Sheriff’s investigator arrested three men May 20 for allegedly breaking into three Lawndale area homes in the same month. The Sheriff’s Office reported 41 home break-ins for May so far.

“I contribute the spike to the three individuals we arrested,” Norman said. “They’re suspects in around eight to 10 other cases.”

From locking doors to patrolling neighborhoods

More officers canvassing neighborhoods is one way law enforcement is trying to deter break-ins.

Ledford sends his Shelby officers to neighborhoods that experience a spike in break-ins. For Shelby, break-ins are decreasing from a high of 396 in 2008 to 189 in 2011, according to Ledford.

“They (officers) go door to door,” Ledford said. “If we see a trend or pattern, we say, ‘That’s where we’re going; that’s where we need to focus our resources.”

More officers in neighborhoods is a comfort for James Huskey Jr. He moved into his East Shannonhouse Street home around four months ago. He works two jobs. Huskey’s found his home burglarized twice within 11 days.

Huskey said officers investigating his case plan to patrol his neighborhood more often. He came home the morning of May 23 to find an air conditioning unit in the rear of his home pushed through a window. Thieves stole food from his refrigerator, even the lettuce. Now Huskey is anxious.

“I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want to be here …. I don’t know what they’re capable of,” Huskey said. “Some people just won’t let you live.”

The invasion hasn’t just scared Huskey. His 17-year-old son who attends Shelby High School is afraid to live at the home.

“It’s standing in my way of wanting to be a father. He wants to cut grass and do things I did. It hurts,” Huskey said.

Why didn’t the neighbors call police?

Norman said residents can call the Sheriff’s Office to have a deputy visit their home while they are out of town.

“We’ll actually come out and check the residence and make sure it’s secure,” Norman said. “That is a preventative measure on our part, and it also places patrol cars in that neighborhood.”

Police officers aren’t the only ones who can work to keep home break-ins at a minimum. Communities can, too.

After her home was broken into in February, Peay said she didn’t sleep all night.

“I was full of so much hurt and anger and rage,” she said.

Now, Peay said, there’s nothing left to take. She can’t afford the expense of another move right now, but she is looking for a safer place to live.

Peay said that when the first break-in occurred the thieves used a truck and carried her belongings out the back door. Some of the things had been given to her daughter as Christmas presents.

“I have never felt so violated. To have my 12-year-old tell me she doesn’t feel safe …” Peay’s voice broke. “I’m her mama. I’m supposed to keep her safe.”

For Peay, with the break-ins happening in the middle of the day, she wondered why neighbors never alerted police to the theft.

Being a watchful neighbor

Police chiefs and the county sheriff agree that neighbors need to watch out for each other. Proctor said members in Neighborhood Watch communities are instrumental to officers solving break-in cases. He’s also heard people say they don’t want to get involved when a crime happens. Proctor said that without the public’s help, the next home a criminal breaks into could be their own.

A neighbor on the lookout helped Shelby Police officers catch a 22-year-old man while he was breaking into a Grice Street home May 15. The neighbor saw the man wearing a white hoodie kick open a home’s front door.

Three Shelby Police officers went to the home’s back door, according to a police incident report.

“Shelby Police, is there anyone inside?” one officer called out.

The officers saw a black man run past a window and lock the rear door before officers could walk inside. Then, a police officer kicked the rear door open. The man in the white hoodie had stuffed cameras, food and speakers from the home inside a red and black backpack, the report read. The man allegedly told police to take him to jail. He admitted to breaking into the Grice Street home, according to the police report.

Police charged Dennis Hopper, from the 400 block of West Circle Drive, with felony breaking and entering and felony larceny. Hopper has a history of breaking and entering charges that span back to 2009, according to the N.C. public offender search website. He was booked into the Cleveland County jail, according to the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office website.

The man and woman who were renting the home said the stolen items in the backpack belonged to them. They told police no one was supposed to be in the home while they were gone, based on the report.

“The public are our eyes and ears,” Proctor said. “If something doesn’t look right, call. That really helps us out.”

‘Our problem together’

Mary Maddox lives two houses down from Huskey. She moved into the neighborhood in 1986. She remembered the days where she could go to sleep with her windows open. Now, she has a steel fence surrounding her home. A “Keep Out” sign hangs nearby. She was shocked when she learned Huskey’s home was broken into twice.

“You better not go to bed with your door open now,” Maddox said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s awful.”

Now, Maddox looks out for Huskey’s home while he’s at work.

A collective effort from officers canvassing neighborhoods and residents watching out for each other factor into preventing rising home break-in numbers.

Norman said law enforcement across the county are working together to solve home break-in cases. They’ve also worked together to crack down on repeat breaking and entering offenders. Law enforcement officers now have their eyes on people working in groups who break into homes.

“It’s not a city or county problem,” Norman said. “It’s our problem together to make this community safer.”

Why peaks in January and April?

 The first four months of 2012 and last year showed peaks in home break-ins mostly in January and April. The Shelby Police Department reported at least 20 home break-ins for April both years. The Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office reported 44 home break-ins for 2011 and 2012.

Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford attributed the January peaks to the holiday season. He said more valuables are usually in the home after Christmas. Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman said criminals resort to stealing items from home to replenish their income.

“They’d rather break into homes than get a job, preying off of hardworking individuals,” Norman said.

Ledford said usually, warmer weather triggers more larcenies of outdoor equipment such as lawn mowers and weed trimmers.



Home break-ins reported by Shelby Police Department by year from 2008-11:

2008: 396

2009: 231

2010: 198

2011: 189


Home break-ins reported by Shelby police from January through April 2011 and 2012:

January: 15, 17

February : 6, 11

March: 14, 15

April: 21, 25


Home break-ins reported by the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office in 2011: 478

* The number of  home break-ins in 2008, 2009 and 2010 weren’t available from the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Alan Norman wanted to point out that his agency covers the most square miles in Cleveland County. He provided these comparisons, which he said he received from the county manager’s office.

Total square mileage of Cleveland County: 464.3

Population: 98,391

Square mileage of Kings Mountain: 12.32

Population: 9,546

Square mileage of Shelby: 21.08

Population 20,358

Square mileage of Boiling Springs: 4.43

Population 4,653

Square mileage of Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction: 426.47

Population: 63,834


Home break-ins reported by the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office from January through April 2011 and 2012:

January: 36, 25

February: 29, 26

March: 28, 44

April: 44, 44


Home break-ins reported by the Kings Mountain Police Department from 2008-11:

2008: 56

2009: 51

2010: 60

2011: 93


Home break-ins reported by Kings Mountain Police Department from January through April 2011 and 2012:

January: 9, 5

February: 8, 11

March: 8, 8

April: 5, 12


Home break-ins reported by the Boiling Springs Police Department from 2008-11:

2008: 15

2009: 14


2011: 7


Home break-ins reported by the Boiling Springs Police Department from January through April, 2011 and 2012:

January: 0,0

February, 0, 1

March, 0, 0

April, 2, 0

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