Public Safety

Arrest of burglary rings highlights police focus on career criminals

Charlotte has a history with cunning commercial burglars.

On Tuesday, police announced they have arrested four people in a commercial burglary ring that has mostly targeted restaurants and electronics stores across the city since August.

Xzavior Green, Jaqcorey Melton, Durell Williams and Whitli Smith-Bloomfield were charged in 13 of the breaking-and-entering cases – although police believe they are responsible for dozens more in Mecklenburg and surrounding areas.

The arrests – and similar ones involving alleged commercial burglars – highlight how difficult it can be to track down some of the city’s most prolific career criminals. But it also shows how important it is to focus on the worst offenders, as police revamp their strategies and request more officers to bring down crime.

In the most recent case, police painted a picture of burglars who were crafty and efficient. The crimes were spread out across six of the city’s police divisions and at least two counties, which can make it difficult for investigators to quickly identify patterns. And police leaders looking at a burglary or two in their division will likely not bring in the same amount of resources as a department contending with a citywide spree.

Police have said the cases remain under investigation, and in such instances, investigators will comb through unsolved cases, looking for burglaries that fit similar patterns.

The arrest of the alleged burglary ring comes as commercial break-ins have increased in the last year. Through the third quarter of 2015, the latest period for which data are available, commercial burglaries jumped 19.2 percent from the same period in 2014.

The recent arrests are reminiscent of another series of commercial burglaries. In those instances, police say, the robbers would stake out businesses around opening and closing time, when there were fewer employees to put up any resistance.

Sometimes the robbers would patiently wait for a delivery driver or another employee to return to a business, then dash in and demand money.

Police Chief Kerr Putney told me that he’s trying some new tactics to bring down crime, including asking the city for more officers and giving the department’s sergeants more autonomy to deal with emerging crime trends.

But some effective policies remain in place, Putney has told me and other reporters. The most recent alleged burglary ring was brought down by the Targeted Response and Apprehension Unit, a group of officers that focuses on the most prolific criminals.

“We have to fight crime. We’re never going to stray away from that,” he told me late last year. “When the burglaries happen in your neighborhood, you’re going to see us very quickly. Our responsiveness is something I’m going to measure as well – how quickly we’re responding to those trends.”