Neighbors come together to stop burglary spree
With the recent wave of crime in Marion County, Metro police just announced beefed-up efforts to keep you safe.
Imagine coming home from work and noticing someone has broken into your home. Not once, not twice, but several times over! Residents of one Indianapolis neighborhood lived in fear for months and what they did can help you protect your own neighborhood.
Eyewitness News brought together a six-member panel, including two police officers, who live or own a home in the North Brookside neighborhood. They all share similar stories.
"How many of you all, including the officers, have ever had your home broken into or been burglarized?" asked Eyewitness News anchor Andrea Morehead.
"They raised a window and tried to get in. Another time they kicked the door in," Geralyn Vandever said.
"I had tenants on both sides and there was an attempted break-in on both sides. And this happened twice in about three weeks," said Laurie Klinger.
"This time, he had busted through a security door and I had spent thousands and thousands of dollars for 14 glass block windows in the basement, 14 barred windows, four security doors, motion detectors," said Dave Robbins.
For months, residents lived in fear.
"Fear, anger. It's just an invasion of privacy," said Vandever.
So last October, with the help of police, they organized a neighborhood crime watch group and got connected through email using a smartphone app from NextDoor.com.
"I can either pick up the phone and call them or I can just send them a quick little message," said David Kathan.
Neighbors are the eyes and ears of unsavory activity. David was a repeat victim.
"During one of the break-ins that happened early on, they actually ripped it out of the wall and smashed it into tiny little pieces on the floor," said Kathan. "You can see where I had a big deadbolt thing that they ripped off there. If you come back here, they actually cut through the chain link fence to be able to have better access to break into my garage."
Once in the garage, the thieves got into his home.
"I've replaced this TV probably three times. I have a lot of computer equipment, so each computer cost up to $2,000 and I've lost several of them," Kathan said.
David was fed up.
"I thought someone was watching me, so we just kind of turned the tables," he said.
So next to the hanging Halloween decorations, he positioned a webcam.
"It's wireless, so you can really put them anywhere in your house," Kathan said.
His was hooked up to a computer.
"When the motion happens, it sends those images through emails," he said.
He was also able to monitor his home from work.
"Saying something's moving in your living room and I look and I'm like, 'That's a guy'," he said.
The alarm system called police, who met Kathan at his house. His two laptops, a television and an Xbox and games were gone. But the images of the suspect's face never left. Several neighbors said the same guy broke into their homes, too.
"Dave Robbins, who lives down the street, was like, 'Yeah, that's the guy that I caught in my kitchen'," Kathan said.
"I looked very specifically at him noted things about him," Robbins said.
"He was your neighbor? Were you surprised when you found out it was him?" Morehead asked.
"He got up and went down to burglarize houses the way you and I get up to go to work," Robbins replied.
Police say 47-year-old Mitch Matlock's crime spree can be traced to seven cases beginning July 2012, including Kathan's home on October 8, where the camera doesn't lie.
"Do you see David as being a hero?" Morehead asked. "But for that video, Mitch could still be out there."
"Absolutely! It was the thing that kind of made Matlock give up and say, 'Okay, you got me. I'll admit to this'," Klinger said.
Matlock admitted he sold the stolen items on the street to buy drugs. In a surprising twist, he admitted to breaking into a total of 92 homes in the North Brookside neighborhood alone.
"It's a crime of opportunity," said IMPD Ofc. Michael Hewitt.
Metro police joined us for our panel discussion.
"Residential burglaries are down 15 percent in Indianapolis," Hewitt said.
But you may find the numbers staggering.
In Indianapolis this year, between January 1 and March 31, there were nearly 2,400 home break-ins, an average of 800 a month. The concentration is on the near and far east side, plus the near west side.
But every corner of the city is a target. It may sound like a no-brainer, but police say your first line of defense is an alarm system.
"I've spoken with burglars in the past and they do not want to approach houses with an alarm system," Hewitt said.
Also, remove window unit air conditioners.
"Those are very easy for a burglar to push in," Hewitt said.
Other tips include trimming your bushes and keeping your lawn mowed and the lights on. Also, a dog's bark and bite can be a burglar's worst enemy.
That's how another suspect was sniffed out, thanks to teeth marks.
But some of the North Brookside residents say police need to be more aggressive in identifying burglars, suggesting it took too long to arrest Matlock, whose fingerprints were found at multiple crime scenes.
"They treat each case individually, where as a neighborhood what we were able to do was really look at things in aggregate and provide that aggregate information back to some of the prosecutors," Kathan said.
Klinger even suggests more neighborhood resource officers - also known as NROs.
"They can do more in depth work, they can respond to a situation that, you know, is going on but maybe is not a 911 call and they can do a little more investigation," said Klinger.
One week after we taped the panel discussion with IMPD, the department announced the reassignment of some officers as NROs. A week later, IMPD announced it is adding 101 officers to pick up some of the crime calls as they come in from dispatch. That translates to more officers on the street walking the beat.
"We want to give you guys kudos," IMPD Ofc. Christopher Wilburn said to the panel.
Police are working with neighborhood crime watch groups.
"Two meetings a year is all it takes to organized a group like this," Wilburn said.
It's a show of force that will hopefully restore peace and send a strong message.
"What I can't replace is that security that my son has lost in sleeping in his bed," Kathan said.
"Do not come into NoBo neighborhood," Vandever said.
Collective eyes are watching and they have a message for would-be criminals like Matlock.
"Stop the crime. When you're hurting us, you're hurting yourself," Vandever said.
How to set up a Neighborhood Watch on your block
Metro Police are urging residents to work with officers to set up Neighborhood Watch groups if one does not already exist in their area. Police do not want residents to become vigilantes. But they do say that alert residents can be a huge help to police by observing and reporting suspicious activity.
A block club usually consists of no more than 30 homes facing each other. If you're interested in starting one, you'll need to identify that target area and check with your neighbors to see if there's interest.
Next, you'll need to contact the CrimeWatch specialist and schedule your first meeting. The first meeting will include a discussion on the Neighborhood Watch concept, basic home security and observing and reporting procedures. It lasts about an hour.
The second meeting will include a visit from a Crime Prevention officer who will help your group define district boundaries, discuss area crime trends and marking property.
Each block club needs a captain, victim assistant and hospitality person.
Neighborhood CrimeWatch Block Club - How to set one up, and guidelines.