By Joe Johnson
Athens-Clarke County police have made three arrests and developed additional suspects in a rash of commercial burglaries that have occurred since the county closed businesses and enacted a shelter-in-place ordinance a month ago in response to the coronavirus public health emergency.
The novel coronavirus is highly infectious and can cause the deadly COVID-19 disease.
Overall, the county has experienced a 33-percent decrease in crime since the ordinance took effect a month ago, according to police.
However, “After the shelter in place that was enacted on March 17th, commercial burglaries have increased by 175% compared to the two weeks before the 17th,” said Lt. John Radford, the police department’s acting public information officer.
“Historically, commercial burglaries in Athens-Clarke County make up for 17% of the total burglaries,"” Radford said. “Since March 17th commercial burglaries have made up 42% of the total burglaries.”
After the county’s shelter-in-place ordinance, which closed non-essential businesses and limited social gatherings to 10 people, with a 6-foot distancing between individuals, Gov. Brian Kemp declared a statewide emergency that placed restrictions on social activity that superceded those in county ordinances.
Athens-Clarke County police Property Crimes Unit Detective Nathaniel Franco said he believed there was a correlation between public health restrictions and the increase in commercial burglaries.
“The COVID-19, shelter in place may play a role in this increase in that people are home more often and commercial businesses, being closed, are easier targets,” Franco said. “It could also play a role in that many juveniles are not in school, allowing them more time to be involved in criminal activity. It's hard to say that the shelter in place is directly to blame, but it may be playing a role for the reasons mentioned.”
Burglaries have been committed or attempted at the following eastside businesses since March 20: Dollar General and Cali-N- Tito's on Cedar Shoals; Mama Sid's Pizza and Zaxby’s on Barnett Shoals Road; Cool World Ice Cream and Salon Two Thirteen at Gaines School and Barnett Shoals roads; and La Fiesta on College Station Road.
“We believe that the same suspect(s) are responsible for these incidents,” Franco said.
The trend continued through this month, with burglaries reported at Hardee's on Lexington Road and Perry's liquor and convenience store locations on Cedar Shoals Road and Lexington Road was entered and cigarettes were stolen.
Two juvenile offenders are suspected in the Perry’s on Cedar Shoals case and charges are pending according to Franco.
Three arrests have been made in connection with the burglaries this month of two downtown businesses.
Cedric Lemans Norwood, 42, of Hickman Drive and Pueblo Martin Hall, 42, of Winder were both arrested for the April 5 burglary of Wonder Bar on East Washington Street, and Issac D’Jarvis Cortez, 23, of Westchester Drive was arrested for the April 17 burglary of The Clubhouse on College Avenue.
Most recently, on April 20, Krystal's and Sonic on Lexington Road were hit. The glass on the doors to these businesses were broken for entry to be made. At Krystal, cash was stolen from the drawer and at Sonic, an empty cash box was taken.
Some of the burglaries were committed by a single suspect and some were committed by the same suspect and a heavier-set male with him,” according to police, who said the thieves used crow bars to enter business and target cash registers.
The day those two fast food restaurants were burglarized, police issued the following announcement:
“Recently, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department has noticed a trend in commercial burglaries in our jurisdiction. In particular, the burglars tend to be targeting restaurants, especially those that have drive-throughs. What we have noted is that we have not received alarm activations for these businesses. They have been found by employees returning to work to open, or by our officers on routine patrol. In one of the cases, we were unable to reach a responsible party to come and secure the business after we discovered the break-in.
“What the ACCPD is asking for is for is to get the word out to businesses to be vigilant about locking/securing doors, arming or activating alarm systems and making sure their emergency contacts are up to date in the event they are a victim. Please assist in getting the word out any way that you can.”