Burglars are targeting homes in the west end of Benton County and they're hitting the area hard.
Most of the break-ins are happening during the day and thieves are taking high-ticket items -- guns, jewelry and game systems or other electronics -- that they can swipe quickly, said Benton County sheriff's Lt. Clay Vannoy.
So far this year, deputies have taken reports on 142 burglaries and 20 attempted burglaries in the west end of the county from the Benton City to Prosser areas, Vannoy said.
Exact numbers for last year weren't readily available, but Vannoy said this year's figures equal about a 120 percent increase.
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"It's unusually high," he said. "It's totally sporadic. There's no clear pattern we can see."
The burglaries, which also include occasional shops, sheds or storage units, have been scattered over a fairly large geographical area and have been pretty constant since the beginning of the year.
Extra deputies are put in the west end of the county when possible, but it's difficult to concentrate on one area because the break-ins are all over the place, Vannoy said.
"Usually, if we have the manpower we can stay on top of it and it slows it down," he said. "We've been fairly successful when we do get leads to follow up and make arrests, but there seems to be no shortage of people doing it."
Suspects who have been nabbed typically are linked to numerous burglaries and it seems to be groups of thieves working together, he said.
Some burglaries have been linked to gang activity, including gang members from Yakima County who cross the county line. Some are done by drug users who sell stolen goods to get money for drugs, and "a lot are just thieves who don't work and steal other people's things that they work for," Vannoy said.
The method thieves continue to use for the daytime burglaries is simply to knock on doors to see if anybody's home. If someone answers, the suspect usually makes up some excuse such as looking for a lost dog, giving a name of someone else and asking if they're home, or even trying to buy or sell things.
If no one answers, that's their cue to kick down the door, grab what they can and get out, Vannoy said.
Rich Dorsett said that's exactly what happened to one of his rental homes in the west end of the county last week while the renter was at work. Burglars kicked in the back door, threw a rock through a bathroom window and tore through the house grabbing jewelry, guns and other items, he said.
And a neighbor who lives off Old Inland Empire Highway lost more than $2,000 worth of property in a break-in a week earlier, he said.
"These break-ins are occurring mainly in the morning in the daylight. They're waiting for people to go to work," Dorsett said. "We see these people. We know who they are, we just don't know who they are when we see them."
Dorsett said residents need to pay attention to what's going and stay alert so they can help each other.
"We have a real serious problem out here. We've got to work together to get this stopped," he said. "It's making things unbearable. It's costing me a lot of money here."
Sheriff's officials say they need residents' help by reporting any suspicious activity, people or vehicles around them. And he said residents shouldn't worry about bothering deputies by calling the dispatch center's nonemergency line at 628-0333, or calling 911 if there's an emergency.
"It doesn't matter how small the reason is. We want to catch these people as bad as anyone else, if not worse," Vannoy said. "If something looks suspicious to you, it usually is."
Residents also can help by keeping their doors and windows locked, letting neighbors know if they're going to be gone so they want watch out for each other and securing valuables.
Anyone who's going to be gone for a long period of time also can let the sheriff's office know because deputies can try to do home checks, Vannoy said.
He said the sheriff's office has limited resources, with typically six deputies on a shift plus a supervisor to cover five zones in a large county. Most of the time there's one deputy in the Prosser area and one in the Benton City area, but the department is trying to get extra deputies out there when available, he said.
"It is frustrating and very invasive when someone comes into your home. The only thing the victims are guilty of is going to work and making a living," Vannoy said. "It's something we're not taking lightly."