Akira Saito has been walking around at his home east of downtown lately with a claw hammer dangling from his back pocket.
Saito, 27, plans to use the hammer to defend himself if need be. And he has reason to be wary. Last week, thieves climbed through a rear window of his modest red-brick home and stole electronics equipment.
“We got Christmas shopped,” Saito said.
Since Nov. 1, nearly 20 home break-ins have occurred in the East Raleigh area where Saito lives. It includes the Longview and Lockwood neighborhoods.
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But neighbors are uniting over social media and fighting back. One community member developed a map showing where the break-ins had taken place, then distributed it throughout the neighborhood. Another resident offered to reinforce his neighbors’ doors by installing longer screws that would make it more difficult for thieves to break in.
A new app called “Nextdoor” helped Saito and others see where crimes were occurring.
“It’s great,” said Amy Weston, 24, who lives in the community. “So many people in the neighborhood who wouldn’t have known now know about the other break-ins.”
The red-brick bungalow Weston shares with two roommates was burglarized in November. Someone ripped a light off the side of the house to obscure criminal activity, then kicked the back door off its frame, bypassing three locks that had secured it.
“They went through the place looking for the best stuff,” Weston said. “We have multiple TVs, but they took the biggest TV, computers, a really good Les Paul guitar and cameras.”
Van Alston, a neighborhood resident who owns MoJoe’s restaurant in Glenwood South and Slim’s in downtown Raleigh, has so far replaced the screws in five of his neighbors’ doors.
“Most 1-inch screws barely go into the door jamb,” said Alston. “A 3-inch screw goes all the way into the frame of the house. If someone kicks it, they are not going to get through unless they’re Andre the Giant.”
Door to door
Another neighbor used the Nextdoor app to put together a community group that went door to door with fliers that offered tips on how to prevent homes from being burglarized.
“We pick different neighborhoods and go knock on doors, especially for older folks who are not on social media,” Saito said.
The neighbors have been assisted by Raleigh police officers who have posted break-in and burglary prevention tips on the community’s Facebook page.
A neighbor also used Nextdoor to remind residents about an iCloud feature called “Find My Mac” that could help victims locate their stolen property.
Thieves are burglarizing homes in the community during the early evening hours. After disabling lighting, they force their way into the rear entrances.
It was still early evening when Saito and his wife, Blair, got home after watching the new “Hobbit” movie. They found the back window open and their cats sitting on the window sill. Someone had unplugged the extension cords used to turn on their holiday lights and unscrewed the light bulbs on the back porch. Akira Saito thinks the burglary happened sometime between 5 and 8 p.m.
“They got PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, my laptop, a red soccer bag to stuff all the goods in it and just left,” he said.
Signs and alarms
Moments after Blair Saito discovered the break-in, she raced to a nearby Walmart, bought markers and poster board, and scrawled messages to the criminals who violated her home.
“GO AHEAD,” read the sign in the rear window. “TRY AND ENTER our home again. Our 80 lb. BOXER LOVES MEETING NEW PEOPLE! SHE will be anxiously awaiting your arrival!! p.s. the S.B.I. has your fingerprints.”
Weston had an alarm system installed throughout her home late Monday afternoon.
Along with putting motion sensors on the front and rear doors, an employee with AlarmForce placed a time delay system on one door and a rapid response system on the other that will immediately sound during any illicit entry.
Alston, the restaurant and bar owner, said the community has since learned that break-ins are on the uptick across the city.
Many neighborhoods are “reactive” to crime, he said.
“We want Lockwood to be a proactive community,” he said.