KEY LARGO -- An unprecedented number of home burglary reports in recent months has the Sheriff's Office beefing up patrols and Crime Watch groups on alert.
An average of one home burglary a day -- almost twice the norm -- was reported last month. Thieves appear to be targeting more affluent neighborhoods where homes have been shuttered while part-time residents are away.
"Residential burglaries spiked in October and into November, especially in the neighborhoods of Port Largo, Twin Lakes and Stillwright Point," Monroe County Sheriff's Office Capt. Lou Caputo said. "Normally we see 14 to 17 burglaries a month from one end to the other in Key Largo."
Last week, a Stillwright Point couple returned home from a stay in Gainesville to find their home in disarray with jewelry and other items missing. Glass littered the floor under a window that had been smashed. A shutter covering the window had been removed.
Caputo says when winter residents return to the Keys his office receives delayed reports of burglaries. He expects more calls as winter residents come back to Key Largo.
Twenty-nine Key Largo home burglaries were reported in October, up from 16 residential burglaries in 2009. Ten residential burglaries were reported during the first 10 days of November. Last year, a total of 11 were reported in November.
Throughout all of 2009, a total of 184 residential burglaries were reported in Key Largo, the same number as of Nov. 10 this year.
In most cases, deputies are finding two distinct types of burglaries.
"There are different types of entries," Caputo said. "Kids break in and steal liquor and games, but the pros take jewelry, TVs and other electronics."
So far, the Sheriff's Office has arrested nine suspects in the Key Largo burglaries, sheriff's spokeswoman Becky Herrin said.
"Additional suspects from the Miami and Key Largo areas are under investigation and more arrests are expected," she said.
On Friday, Nov. 5, three Miami men were arrested for loitering and prowling in the Port Largo neighborhood at 2 a.m. According to the arrest report, deputies found gloves, dark clothing and a number of tools, including bolt cutters, in their car. They gave conflicting stories as to why they were in Key Largo.
"We saw a drop-off after those arrests, even though the three men bonded out," Caputo said. "We have moved many of our detectives to the night shift and have saturated the problem areas."
Caputo advised residents to join Crime Watch groups and urged part-time residents and those leaving town on vacation to cancel newspaper and mail deliveries and lock up their homes.
"Do whatever you can to delay the entry time of would-be burglars," he said. "And please report all suspicious activities. Call us 24-7."
To report a burglary or unusual activity, call 853-3211 or 911.