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SATURDAY, JULY 14, 2007
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Decatur neighborhood swamped by crime
Detective seeks increased patrols for area in southwestern part of city; apartments vulnerable

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

A detective who is swamped with about 100 burglary and auto burglary cases from June alone said she asked this week for increased police patrols in a Decatur neighborhood.

Detective Lela Alexander said that while the pile of cases confronting her come from all over Southwest Decatur, an alarming number come from an area including Gaslight Place, Brookline Avenue and Gold Ridge Drive.

"It appears that we've got several individuals going through the apartment complexes and trying doorknobs and car doors to see if any are unlocked," Alexander said. "They're trying to get in and taking whatever they can.

Operating shorthanded

"We've been operating shorthanded on patrol, and it starts showing up in incidents like this. It's a lack of manpower. It's definitely in relation to that."

The Police Department, which is authorized to employ 130 officers, was operating 22 short until June. Police Chief Ken Collier said earlier this week that the deficiency, the worst he could recall, affected non-emergency responses.

Eleven new officers graduated from training in June, and the department will soon hire at least eight more.

Lt. Chris Mathews, a police spokesman, said Friday that shifting more officers to focus on crime in areas such as Gaslight Place is a short-term solution until there are enough officers to improve patrols all around.

The area, filled with townhouses and apartment complexes, should be a nice place to live, some residents said.

Felicia Shackelford said she and her husband moved to the 1200 block of Goldridge Drive about six months ago and are already ready to move out.

A month after moving in, she said, pranksters set her car on fire. The next night, a neighbor's motorcycle burned up. The day after that, a garbage bin went up in flames.

In June, someone broke into the townhouse and stole an estimated $30,000 in property, including her wedding ring and other jewelry, cameras, cash, a firearm and a collection of jewelry left to her husband by his late father, Shackelford said.

"Those are pieces of his father that he can never replace," Shackelford said.

"The police that came that day said he stays pretty busy over there. ... He said he was asking for more officers over there because it was just him working the area.

"We didn't know (about crime in the area) prior to moving there. We moved from Cumberland, a block over, and we thought we were still in a decent area. ... I feel disappointed and scared.

"When they set our car on fire, that was right underneath our bedroom. It's scary that something like that could happen. And then there's people coming in and we don't know how they're getting in. When they came in our apartment, we're lucky we weren't home."

Mathews said the upcoming hiring will put extra police officers into training before attrition inevitably reduces their numbers again.

"It's a very proactive thing that the mayor and City Council are doing. They're going to let us over-hire. I don't know if they've ever done that before, but we're really happy that they're taking that proactive approach," Mathews said.

Shackelford said she wants to move but is bound by a lease.

"As soon as we found somewhere we could go, we would be out," she said. "If it was just my husband and I, we could tolerate it, but with my daughter we would do all we could to get out of there."

Alexander asked area residents to be on the lookout for suspicious activity and contact police. Most of the crimes take place between 10 p.m. and early morning, she said.

She said a trio arrested over Memorial Day weekend in connection with some crimes in the area did not live in the neighborhood but had been riding through on bicycles.

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