MANATEE -- With an increase in the number of burglaries, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office has assembled a task force to combat the new rash of crimes.
The Burglary Task Force was created in May -- Crime Prevention Month -- in hopes of curtailing vehicle and residential burglaries.
As of Friday, the task force had made 27 arrests totaling in 46 felony and six misdemeanor charges. In addition three vehicles have been seized.
"I think the task force has done an outstanding job to put this many people in jail in such a short amount of timing," said Lt. Patrick Cassella, who leads the task force.
Last year, 176 burglaries were reported during the first half on May in unincorporated Manatee County. This year, 177 were reported during that same time period. And they were up 3.5 percent since the beginning of the year compared with 2012, data shows.
With a 15.7 percent decrease in crime reported for 2012, the department is striving to prevent the numbers of burglaries from increasing to what they once were.
During 2012 there were 2,010 burglaries overall compared with 2,532 burglaries in 2011 and 2,745 in 2010. But in the first three months this year, burglaries started to increase again and the department decided to do something about it.
"What we see going on this year is an increase in burglaries, and we do want to bring it back where it was," Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said.
The task force has several teams, each with its own mission. Some are hitting up the pawn shops, others are patrolling areas identified as hot zones using crime analysis data and others are pursuing suspects with outstanding warrants.
The education component has been key, however, as the department says it is continuously trying to remind residents to lock their doors and use alarm systems if they have them.
"No matter how hard you try to put that message out, we are still having burglaries," Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said.
According to Cassella, the department is seeing eight to 10 vehicle burglaries ev
"We are trying to educate the public first," Cassella said. "We need the citizens' help of locking their vehicles, because right now vehicle burglaries are way up."
Steube has weekly crime meetings where the crime analysts share the areas they have identified as hot zones -- where there has been a recent, significant increase in burglaries.
As part of the education effort, members of the task force are house to house, evaluating residents' vehicles to see how easy of a target they are to be burglarized.
The evaluation is then either hand-delivered or hung on the door to let them know whether they were an easy or hard target for vehicle burglary.
The task force is also sending unmarked patrol cars into these hot zones during the time periods the crime analysts have determined the majority of the burglaries are occurring.
Another issue being addressed by the task force is that most of the burglaries are being committed by repeat offenders.
"The most frustrated thing about this: As soon as we put these people in jail, the next day they are out," Cassella said.
During the weekly crime meetings, the districts are identifying who these people are.
"They know these people by name that are committing these crimes, they know when they were arrested and they know when they have bonded out," Steube said. "So those are the people we focus on once they have bonded out.
"Part of this task force is we are going to their homes and having a consensual conversation," the sheriff said. "Most of the time they'll talk to you."
The task force is also going to pawn shops to identify who is pawning stolen merchandise.
"It is difficult to prove sometimes that you broke into a house, but it's not so difficult to prove you took stolen property to a pawn shop and pawned it," Steube said.
The suspect can then be charged with dealing stolen property, a felony equal to burglary.
"The top 10 list of people who pawn in the county every month, most of them are burglars or people that have been arrested before," Steube said.
Jessica De Leon, Herald Law Enforcement Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. Follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.