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Editorial: Burglary tools law could help prevent crimes

Jul. 24, 2013 @ 07:05 PM

It's the reason we lock our doors.

Property crimes have become an all-too-common part of daily life over the past 50 years. Nationally, the number of incidents skyrocketed in the 1980s and 1990s, tracking the rise of illegal drug use and trafficking. At the trend's peak in 1994, there were an estimated 63 burglaries for every 1,000 U.S. households, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Thanks to better police enforcement and improved home security, those numbers have dropped dramatically to about 28 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2011. But that is still a lot of break-ins and thefts. Unfortunately, these types of crimes have a relatively low clearance rate -- about 13 percent nationally.

Not only do most victims never see their valuables again, the damage done by thieves can be extensive, and broken windows and doors are just the start. Metal thefts, in particular, often translate into thousands of dollars in repairs for homes and automobiles.

There is a good argument for being proactive, and that is what the City of Huntington hopes to do with its recently passed ordinance on burglary tools.

The City Council Tuesday passed the proposal from Police Chief Skip Holbrook and Mayor Steve Williams that creates a misdemeanor offense for possessing tools to be used in the commission of a property crime. The purpose is not to arrest every one with a crowbar in their trunk, but to give investigating officers an edge in suspicious situations.

Holbrook gave council the example of a man stopped last weekend with gloves, a flashlight and jewelry. With no robbery report filed, police had to let him go, but the ordinance would allow an arrest on burglary tools possession, giving police a chance to compare the suspect's fingerprints with unsolved crimes. But to get a conviction, the burden would be on police to show the intent was to use the tools in a crime.

Ohio has had a similar state law for some time, and officials there say that it has been helpful in making arrests and building cases. Officials are hopeful it could help prevent crime here, as well.

"A good police department arrests people who break into houses," Huntington Police Captain Hank Dial said recently as City Council was considering the measure. "A great police department changes the environment of the city to stop people from breaking into houses."

We certainly hope that will be the result.

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