Teams help Beaufort County law enforcement combat crime trends

astice@islandpacket.comFebruary 7, 2012 

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When burglars victimized dozens of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island businesses last fall,the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office answered with a tried-and-true tactic: a team dedicated to a crack down.

For 20 days in December, off-duty deputies, along with some officers from the Bluffton Police Department, were assigned to saturate areas where break-ins were occurring, according to Capt. Toby McSwain.

Quite likely, beefing up police presence during prime hours for crime helped drive Hilton Head Island's property offenses -- burglary, theft and auto theft -- to their lowest levels in four years, according to McSwain. Combined property crime incidents decreased from 381 incidents in the last quarter of 2008 to 275 incidents in the last quarter of 2011.

The team generated leads and made arrests during their overnight shifts from Dec. 2 through 22, not all related to the string of burglaries, McSwain said. It began with plainclothes officers and evolved to high-profile patrols in marked cars.

"Our increased presence just does a lot more to stop crime," McSwain said. "We were happy with the numbers that went down pretty much across the board."

As a result of the team's work, DNA analysis and a partnership with the Bluffton Police Department, two Bluffton brothers are facing felony charges for the burglaries after undercover investigators bought stolen computers from them.

Steven Lamar Stapleton and Alexander Stapleton weren't the only ones breaking in to area businesses, but the burglaries have decreased since their arrests, authorities have said.

Teams that combat crime trends have proved to be effective, but creating them is a challenge. The team that fought the business break-ins, for example, was made mostly of off-duty officers who received time-and-a-half pay for their work, McSwain said.

The break-ins also were occurring across a wide area, making it difficult to pinpoint locations where deputies could catch criminals in the act, he added.

Teams often spring up after the Sheriff's Office criminal intelligence notes trends by analyzing crime data.

Sometimes that happens after a rash of related incidents. At other times, law enforcement can plan ahead. For instance, the next team that will hit the streets is already worked out: It will try to keep spring-break revelry within its legal bounds, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.

The increase police presence will target areas where incidents are known to occur, including extra patrols near areas college students lease during spring-break season.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

Related content

  1. Law enforcement officers see similarities between Bluffton, Hilton Head shop break-ins, Nov. 25, 2011
  2. Charges dismissed against Bluffton man in business break-in, Dec. 6, 2011
  3. Sale of stolen goods from business break-ins leads to Bluffton arrests, Dec. 14, 2011
  4. Suspects sought, more charges filed in business break-ins, Dec. 16, 2011

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