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Burglary increased last year by 13.4%, with central neighborhoods the most common targets.

burglar 224.88  (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
burglar 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
When Avi and his wife returned to their Rehavia apartment from a weekend in the North, his wife went in first with the baby while he handled the baggage downstairs. Moments later, his wife ran downstairs after a glance inside their apartment revealed that drawers had been strewn all over the floor. Avi yelled a few times from the door to make sure no one was there before they dared enter their home. "The mess was unbelievable," Avi recalls. "[The thieves] took out every single drawer, opened every single closet and threw everything out. There were baby clothes everywhere." In that moment in January, Avi's family joined the list of thousands of Jerusalemites whose homes have been burglarized in the past two years. At a recent press conference, the police released the crime statistics for 2007: Cases of burglary in Jerusalem have jumped 13.4 percent compared to 2006, even as other types of crime have stayed at more or less the same rate of incidence. In 2006 there were 3,183 break-ins in Jerusalem, while in 2007 the number swelled to 3,609. Perhaps more significant, however, is that last year's number of break-ins shows an 80% increase since a decade ago, while violent crime and car thefts have gone down. According to findings released by the police, the neighborhoods hardest hit by property crime are those in central Jerusalem, such as the German Colony and Rehavia. In contrast, neighborhoods such as Pisgat Ze'ev, Neveh Ya'acov and Har Homa are relatively ignored by thieves. With the growing influx of Anglos and French-speakers in central Jerusalem, the perception, at least, is that residents in these communities own items worth stealing. In Avi's case, the thieves may have been disappointed. "We're a young couple, so we don't really have a lot here," Avi says. The thieves took what they could find: some NIS 1,500 worth of jewelry and cash. The family's desktop computer, however, was untouched, which police say is typical, as such items cannot easily be taken through checkpoints. According to Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby, "Most of the burglaries are generally carried out by Palestinians from the West Bank who get into Israel from east Jerusalem." BETWEEN THE summers of 2006 and 2007, Jerusalem police formed a special unit to handle break-ins, which consisted of 150 police officers. But this unit was dissolved in August 2007. According to Ben-Ruby, it was always meant to be temporary. In an interview in mid-February, Ben-Ruby said that Jerusalem burglaries had decreased as a result of the special unit, but the statistics released at the beginning of the month say otherwise. In any case, it's unclear why the special unit was canceled if its operations were a success. Ben-Ruby declined to comment on this point. Since the dissolution of the special unit, explains Ben-Ruby, "Every chief commanding in his area works with his own people. We had a lot of success, and now the chief of police decided that every chief in his area will deal with crimes in his territory." But many people who have been burglarized are unimpressed with police performance at crime scenes. "It's like a joke," Avi says, adding that it was hard to get through to the police by phone on the night of the robbery. He and his wife were forced to wait until two in the morning to file a police report, and still had to go to police headquarters the next day. Police procedure after a burglary is to go directly to the scene to take the residents' details. The next day, the resident must go to police headquarters to file a complaint, then schedule a home visit with the people who check for fingerprints. Katamon resident Yosef Ashkenasy, whose home was robbed while he was at synagogue on Simhat Torah, relates that when the police came to take fingerprints, he asked, "What's the use of this?" According to Ashkenasy, their response was: "None whatsoever, really." The police were polite and sympathetic even as they admitted defeat, Ashkenasy recalls. "It happens," he said they told him. But Ben-Ruby finds that hard to believe. "We think we're doing our best, trying to do our best in any way we can," he says. "We're catching the criminals." THE PLATITUDE that lightning doesn't strike the same place twice is not true of burglaries, experts say. According to criminology Prof. David Weisburd of the Hebrew University, a residence that has been burgled once is more likely than other residences to be burgled again. For former Katamon resident Anna Melman, lightning struck twice within five days. Melman reports that when she came home one night, she couldn't turn her key in the lock. Thinking that her roommate had left the key in the lock, Melman phoned her. It turned out that her roommate wasn't home, and once they succeeded in entering the apartment the two women discovered that the lock on the front door had been jammed from the inside with a key. The thieves had sawed the bars off a bedroom window to gain entry to the apartment. Everything of value that belonged to Melman and her roommate was stolen, including three computers, all of Melman's jewelry, her roommate's cell phone and various electronics. Days later, the same thing happened. This time the thieves gained access by creating a makeshift bridge between Melman's porch and a hill behind the apartment, and then breaking through the blinds of the porch door. There was very little left for them to steal. "As far as we were able to tell, they stole a watch and a couple of pairs of underwear," says Melman. Melman also relates that when the fingerprinting people came a second time, they said, "Wow, we were just here." On both occasions, the police found no fingerprints, which Weisburd says is commonplace. "Criminals aren't stupid." Other drawbacks to fingerprinting as a method of detection, Weisburd says, are its high cost and the fact that it only succeeds if the perpetrator's fingerprints are already in the system. In keeping with the idea that thieves strike many times in the same place, people who have been robbed often report a rash of burglaries in their neighborhood or even on their block. Weisburd confirms that documented studies have shown that burglars tend to operate in gangs that prey on a concentrated area. "Across the street from me, most of the buildings have been broken into," says Ashkenasy, adding that he knows of at least 20 break-ins that have occurred since Succot in his neighborhood IN THE early years of the state, Israel had one of the lowest property crime rates of any Western country. But in the last few decades, the rate has ballooned to become like that of the US. "A major explanation for this is simply that the economy has improved greatly over the years," says Weisburd. "Before, there was less to steal." Weisburd also points out that unlike the US, Israel's police is a national operation that reports to the central government rather than to a local authority such as the mayor. As a result, the emphasis of police operations is on strategic issues such as terrorism, public order and restraining protests. "The police are servants of the community, but sometimes they think of themselves as an army in service of the state," he says. Increased communication between police and residents, he says, would improve the efficacy of crime prevention. In addition, Weisburd recommends that the police use a geographic system to identify "clusters" where burglaries are committed. The police declined to comment on their burglary prevention and criminal-catching methods. But Ben-Ruby did say that the most effective crime prevention method was to be aware of anyone suspicious lurking around your property or neighborhood, and if so, to call the police immediately. Weisburd agrees that community involvement is vital to crime prevention and detection. "People on the block should get together and work with the police," he says. He notes that many criminals have been caught as a result of a neighbor's phone call at an opportune time. On an individual basis, however, the solutions vary. After being robbed twice within a matter of days, Melman opted to move out of her apartment, though finding a new one was no easy task. "I refused to look at any ground-floor apartments," says Melman, who eventually found a rental in the German Colony. "Apartments I did look at, I did my own private security evaluation. Still, every time I come home, I think, 'Is my stuff going to be there?'"