West Boynton Beach burglars break into dozens of homes in gated communities

                             

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Erika Pesantes

Published September 20, 2007

 

West Boynton - Burglars with a taste for high-end jewelry have discovered a treasure trove in dozens of homes in gated communities.

During the seven weeks since the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office documented a home burglary July 28, there have been 77 residential break-ins in unincorporated areas generally west of Jog Road, from Flavor Pict to Lantana roads.

In the seven weeks preceding the rash of break-ins there were 14 burglaries in the same area, Sgt. Al Moreno said.

The spike has prompted authorities to alert the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations and Delray Alliance of Residential Associations. Awareness bulletins and e-mails have been distributed to the nearly 300 communities in the unincorporated areas, said Sheriff's Capt. Martin Bechtel.

On Wednesday he alerted COBWRA members who met at Avalon Estates, one of the developments targeted.

"These are professional crews," he said. "They're hitting gated, guarded communities."

Police are asking homeowners to remain vigilant, set their alarms, report suspicious activity and lock their doors, which in about 30 percent of the cases had been left unlocked, Bechtel said. He suggests homeowners photograph their belongings, keep an inventory of them and jot down serial numbers.

Thieves have targeted mostly adult communities with gates that limit access to, but do not altogether protect, the developments they've targeted. In one burglary, thieves fled with more than $170,000 worth of jewelry.

"It's as if they've discovered our area," said COBWRA President Barbara Katz.

Residents in gated communities may have a false sense of security and fail to lock their homes gates and security posts are "not a guarantee," Katz said. "That minute is all an experienced person needs."

Police think several organized rings are working the area, Moreno said. Burglars slip into homes via locked and unlocked doors and windows and head for master bedrooms where they dig around for safes. They pry them open, sort through less expensive baubles and run off with watches, precious stones, diamonds, gold and platinum jewelry.

On Sept. 12, Moreno launched an action plan and pooled more resources into the area. The Sheriff's Office K-9 and aviation units and even the Florida Highway Patrol some developments border Florida's Turnpike were brought in.

"It became the priority for the detective bureau," he said. "These are serial burglars."

In a case in Coral Lakes, thieves left behind a rifle the victim owned next to an emptied safe. They're just interested in jewelry, Moreno said.

Some burglars ransack homes. But, Moreno said, "In some cases, they pick up the glass they broke. It's bizarre."

It was two hours before Harriet Epstein realized her home at Villaggio had been burglarized of more than $15,000 worth of jewelry, including a string of pearls and a ring her late mother gave her. Epstein had been vacationing in Oregon.

She's since changed her locks and is upgrading her security system, she said.

"You feel totally violated," Epstein said. "It's distressing to me because I moved down here into a community that I thought was going to be safe. And it's not so safe anymore."

Moreno asks that anyone with information call him at 561-274-1056.

 

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