RIVER CLUB — Susan Eicken couldn’t have asked for a much better ending.
As she pulled up to her home in River Club the afternoon of May 14, a knot caught in her throat at sight of a sheriff’s deputy standing in her driveway, his patrol car blocking it off, and another deputy taking fingerprints from the front of her home.
Eicken’s apprehension eased slightly when she realized the women who had been cleaning her home when she left for a doctor’s appointment were gone and not in danger.
“It calmed me down,” Eicken said. “I thought we could deal with whatever (it was).”
About 30 minutes before Eicken had returned from a doctor’s appointment and a few other errands, Lt. Rick Gerken of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office watched as a robber went around the back of her house and came back several minutes later with a pillowcase full of jewelry and other items. Gerken, part of a burglary task force and the community-oriented policing unit that covers the East County, followed the robber’s vehicle and called for backup. By the time Eicken arrived home, deputies already had arrested John Faulkner, 29, for robbing her home, and several others in the East County area.
He has been charged with burglary of an unoccupied dwelling unarmed, grand theft and felony criminal mischief.
“Nobody gets robbed with the police watching,” Eicken said with a chuckle. “I was quite impressed.
“The police officer wouldn’t even let me in my house until they checked my license,” she said. “They were first-class.”
Last month, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office formed the task force in response to an ongoing problem with vehicle and residential burglaries in the area. In just three weeks, the group arrested 45 burglars and recovered more than 500 pieces of stolen property, Gerken said. Those efforts have continued through the sheriff’s office community-oriented policing units, as well.
“We’ve been making quite a few arrests, including the one here,” said Dave Bristow, public information officer. “We’re hoping as we continue to arrest those burglars, the numbers will start going down.”
Community-oriented policing is a philosophy that combines traditional aspects of law enforcement with crime prevention education and community partnership, among other measures. Deputies use crime trends and other data to link crimes and determine where burglars may target next. Gerken and the deputies in his unit were conducting daytime surveillance at the time of Faulkner’s arrest.
“Community policing is just that — it’s community-focused,” Gerken. “We deal with neighborhoods, neighborhood associations. I like to refer to us as the customer service side of the sheriff’s office. We don’t get calls for service. That doesn’t mean we can’t take calls. We try to come up with solutions to resolve those issues.”
But besides data, community-oriented policing units also depend on partnerships with the community. For example, a resident aided in Faulkner’s arrest by calling in suspicious behavior and giving deputies a vehicle description and partial tag number.
“A lot of these apprehensions is deputies being on the ball and members of the community taking more of a role in what’s going on,” Gerken said. “That’s the only way it’s going to be successful.”
Bristow said arrests such as Faulkner’s often result in more leads, such as who is selling the property, other robberies and even narcotics or other investigations.
“These investigations don’t start and finish with getting the information and making the arrest because it’s not just a case of one person out there doing the burglaries,” Bristow said. “It goes on and on and on.”
The sheriff’s office encourages East County residents to report any suspicious behavior immediately rather than waiting until after it has happened.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
From Jan. 1 to May 15, the East County area had 48 home burglaries, according to sheriff’s office statistics. There were 43 home burglaries during the same time period in 2009.
Since January, the sheriff’s office has arrested about 200 individuals for all types of burglaries countywide.