Property crimes decreased on Hilton Head Island in 2012 -- and will decline further if visitors can be persuaded to lock their doors, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office representatives said Monday.
The island had about 200 fewer burglaries and thefts last year than in 2011, according to a quarterly report by the Sheriff's Office to Town Council's Public Safety Committee. The Sheriff's Office provides police service for the town.
The cause of the decline is twofold, Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.
"It's proactive police work, and the community is taking ownership," he said.
Communities watch more carefully for suspicious activity and made about 40,000 more calls for service last year than the year before, according to Tanner. In response, the department shifted more patrols to daylight hours.
Still more can be done to prevent break-ins, according to Capt. Toby McSwain, who delivered Monday's report. The solution is as easy as turning a key, he said.
"We have a lot of visitors that come here and they drive across that bridge, and they think it's a fantasy island and they don't lock anything," he said.
Locking a car or home won't prevent all break-ins, but it deters many, McSwain said, because picking locks and breaking windows is noisy and can attract attention.
The department works with neighborhood security chiefs and managers to help remind residents to lock their doors, McSwain said, adding that neighborhood gates are only "a small deterrent" to thieves.
Hilton Head Plantation, one of the island's largest gated neighborhoods, frequently reminds residents in its newsletters and safety alerts to lock up, community manager Peter Kristian said.
"Unfortunately, there are some folks, no matter how many times you repeat that mantra, that don't heed that very, very simple advice," Kristian said.
In addition to the decline in property-crime reports, the Sheriff's Office said it filed 114 fewer drug charges in 2012, a 35-percent decrease from 2011. Possession of less than two grams of marijuana -- the department's most frequently cited offense -- dropped by 25 percent.
Violent crimes -- murder, aggravated assault, robbery and rape -- remained about the same as in 2011, according to Sheriff's Office statistics.
In other action Monday, the Public Safety Committee voted to pass along the Fire & Rescue Division's 2013 strategic plan to Town Council. The document includes 54 recommendations from the division, such as a ban on open burning, a fee for nuisance fire alarms and an off-island hurricane shelter. It probably will be reviewed by council Feb. 19.
- Teams help Beaufort County law enforcement combat crime trends, Feb. 7, 2012
- Law enforcement officers see similarities between Bluffton, Hilton Head shop break-ins, Nov. 25, 2011