Written by: Michael Gulledge and Jonathan Shorman

Burglars in Springfield routinely and regularly strike homes or businesses – at the rate of about five per day.

More than a thousand residential burglaries occur each year. And burglaries of businesses hover at about 500 per year.

But despite the prevalence – roughly one burglary a year for every 100 residents – only a fraction of the crimes are solved. Burglars are so slippery, police acknowledge, that the best strategy is to simply try to stop them before they get into your house … or your business … or your storage unit, where the crimes have been occurring regularly.

A News-Leader review of a full decade of data provided by Springfield police and from reports filed with the FBI shows:

* Just over 20,000 burglaries occurred in Springfield from 2002-2011. Over that decade, the annual rate as a trend line has generally risen, with some hills and valleys year to year.

* Burglaries peaked in 2009 at 2,314 – comprising 1,669 residential and 519 commercial.

* Last year’s total dropped more than 11 percent from the 2009 level to 2,053, but is still much higher than the 10-year low of 1,759 burglary reports set in 2005.

* Mapped, the West Central neighborhood area stands out as a hot spot. The northern part ofSpringfieldholds the most hot spots, though high burglary areas also appear throughout the city.

* Many burglaries are never even assigned to a detective. Police examine several factors to determine the solvability of a crime. Beyond that, a low percentage are cleared each year – about 13.59 percent in 2011. Clearance only occurs when a suspect is arrested, charged and turned over to a court for prosecution.

Detectives investigate, but not all crimes

Eight detectives in the Springfield Police property crime unit work all general property crimes, including burglary. No detective specializes in just burglaries. Within the next year, Police Chief Paul Williams hopes to bring on another detective.

“If we could add another investigator to that we may be able to say, ‘you focus on burglaries,’” Williams said.

The sheer volume of burglaries decreases the chance any single case will be investigated by a detective. Sgt. Josh McCain, who heads up the property crime unit, makes the call whether or not to assign a detective.

To do this, he looks at what he calls “solvability factors.” Broadly, this means evidence: DNA, fingerprints, witnesses, video surveillance, footprints and whether a victim can credibly identify a suspect. Also helpful: serial numbers.

“If I believe the case is solvable or I believe it could be solvable, then I would assign it to a detective. They would review the reports and evidence, attempt to identify a suspect and apprehend the suspect and present the case to a prosecutor,” McCain said.

If the case is not assigned, victims receive a call from police telling them of that fact.

But how many burglaries are actually assigned to a detective? Williams said police cannot say. For an explanation, he pointed to a footnote in the document “Police Data 2002-2011” found at the police’s website.

The footnote says starting in 2011 the number of cases reviewed by criminal investigations supervisors can no longer be tracked by the department’s records system.

When pressed, Williams did provide numbers of cases assigned in 2010: 325 residential burglaries and 104 commercial burglaries, for a combined total of 429 cases assigned.

With 2,188 burglaries reported in 2010, about 19 percent of all cases were assigned to a detective.

If the number of cases reviewed by detectives is not available, the number of cases cleared is.

Springfield Police cleared 13.59 percent of burglary cases in 2011. Over the past decade, clearance rates for police have reached as high as 20.7 percent and have been as low as 9.1 percent. But with a change in how the department reported clearances in 2011, it’s difficult to tell exactly what the department’s true clearance rate was during the past decade.

Tracking crime, chasing down offenders

Police Chief Paul Williams said the department maintains a regularly updated map used to find crime hot spots. Generally, those hot spots flare up and then die down quickly, lasting maybe a week.

“We either address that or it goes away,” Williams said.

He said looking for hot spots is not as helpful for burglaries as other kinds of crime because burglary hot spots disappear quickly.

McCain said a trend in burglary may be caused by a single criminal committing the same type of burglary time and time again or by a single person returning over and over to the same area.

With a low chance of solving a burglary, investigators focus on repeat offenders. McCain said investigators look at common factors among burglaries, hoping to find patterns and, maybe, find a single perpetrator.

“You may get that one case that balloons into solving multiple burglaries because someone did provide that serial number to us that we’re able to link it to someone and grow it,” Sgt. Scott Kamykowski said. He works in the financial crimes unit, which can become involved in burglaries if checks or credit cards are taken during a crime.

Burglars may have a specialty, McCain said, and if they’re caught, they will be asked about other burglaries they may have committed. Most burglars take items as a way to get money for drugs, but a small percentage do it as a job, Kamykowski said.

In a 2004 book, Breaking and Entering: Burglars on Burglary, authors James Olson and Paul Cromwell spent time with burglars, interviewing and observing them. According to an article adapted from the book, all 30 of the burglars the authors spoke with abused drugs and/or alcohol, with most having addictions.

Neither Kamykowski or McCain were willing to comment on possible demographic characteristics of burglars inSpringfield.

Training neighbors to watch

Rusty Worley, president of the West Central Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood – generally west of downtown, south of Chestnut Expressway and bordered to the west by Kansas Expressway – has responded to crime in general by sending a dozen residents through the Springfield Police Department’s Neighborhood Watch training.

‘We want to get more and more of our residents participating in neighborhood watch,’ he said. The goal is to get eyes and ears open to suspicious activity and decrease crime.

The watch program allows the neighborhood to work closely with police and the class demonstrates easy ways for residents to prevent crimes like burglaries, through trimming bushes, lighting and other strategies.

Over the past several months, police have made a renewed effort at expanding the neighborhood watch program, seeking to train residents in crime prevention topics.
— Preventing burglaries will be explored in-depth during a story Monday.

About the data

The front page graphic and interactive map were compiled from data provided by the Springfield Police Department and processed to derive police reporting districts, provided in police reports, for analysis. Using map overlays provided by the City ofSpringfield, the data was placed on a map to represent the burglary reports in those defined, police reporting districts.

Work with the data was completed by Michael Gulledge andTyler Lane. Print graphics and online layout were completed by Leah Becerra.

By the numbers

*Springfield averaged over 5 burglaries per day in 2011.

* For every commercial burglary reported in 2011, there were more than 3.5 residential burglaries reported.

* Residential burglary reports taken in 2010 and 2011 peaked during the 5 p.m. hour while commercial burglary reports peaked during the 8 a.m. hour.

* In the past 10 years, the year with the most residential burglaries was 2009 with 1,727.

* During the decade, the year with the most commercial burglaries was 2004 with 592.

What is burglary?

Burglary may conjure images of people dressed in black, wearing masks, sneaking into homes and businesses to make off with valuables, but that is only part of the truth.

Burglary, at least inMissouri, deals with how someone enters a property, not necessarily whether or not anything is taken. According to the Missouri Revised Statutes, 569.160-170, burglary exists in the first and second degree.

Burglary happens when someone enters a building, or “inhabitable structure” in legal parlance, unlawfully for the purpose of committing a crime there.

The crime is often associated with theft, but does not actually require it.

First-degree burglary involves an element of danger. Either the burglar has a weapon, or injures someone or someone is in the building while the crime is happening.

Second-degree burglary happens when someone enters a building, but is unarmed or no one else is present.

The penalty for first-degree burglary, a class B felony, is between five and 15 years in prison. The penalty for second-degree burglary, a class C felony, is a prison term not exceeding seven years.