Weekend burglary exposes understaffing at sheriff's office

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News 12 First at Five, Wednesday, June 27, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- $14,000 in property was stolen this weekend, and the victims say police took too long to respond. But the sheriff's office says it's stretched thin, especially on weekends.

"Our house got robbed," mutters burglary victim Nichole Pope.

She sorts through the few items thieves left at her home Saturday: an empty television box and empty jewelry boxes.

She can't sleep.

"I stayed up practically all night thinking that somebody else could come in my house and finish what they started," she says.

Pope says she called 911 immediately. A road deputy responded but it took an investigator two whole days to process the scene.

"I expected a lot more," she says.

She and her husband worry evidence may have been lost.

"I'm relying on the police. I mean, I can't do it by myself. I've got to trust them, you know? They're the people that I tell my children to look up to," Pope says.

News 12 visited Lieutenant Tony Walden who supervises the Property Crime Unit in Richmond County. We asked, "Why weren't fingerprints and photographs taken immediately?"

"These guys work 24 hours a day," he says. "They don't have very much down time."

Walden blames understaffing on weekends. Burglaries are handled by violent crimes which also handles everything else.

"We can't leave an armed robbery to go work a residential burglary case with nobody in custody," Walden says. "So what we have to do is prioritize our work."

Meanwhile the Popes try to piece the crime together; from the burglars' escape to potential evidence in their yard. They've cooperated with police, but they don't want to wait any longer.

"It's hard to live in a house for two days after that and tell your kids not to touch nothing," says Pope.

To help combat the shortage, Lieutenant Walden gave three of his investigators to the Violent Crimes unit. In return, Violent Crimes handles everything on weekends.

Currently, Property Crimes has ten investigators: three are in auto theft, one works pawn shops and scrap yards, one works as a victim liaison and five work the streets.

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