Local social media may be heightening concerns about thefts and suspicious activity in Fulton County, but area law enforcement officials say there’s been no significant increase.
“With social media out there, we’re making more people aware. I don’t know whether its more active than it has been,” Sheriff Roy Miller said. “Everybody’s very nervous because it’s going on in their neighborhoods.”
That isn’t to say thefts haven’t occurred. A 2001 GMC 1500 was taken Oct. 22 from County Road 2 in Swancreek Township. It was recovered in Swanton with, surprisingly, all of the valuables the owner left inside.
Six days later, a Pontiac Grand Am was stolen on County Road BC between County Roads 24 and 25.
The ignition keys had been left in both vehicles because “we’re in a rural area, and people feel safe,” Miller said.
There also have been reports of lawn equipment stolen from rural properties, and, in recent days, log splitters.
However, the rate of criminal activity in Fulton County is a matter of perspective, the sheriff said. County residents protective of their property and their neighbors, especially in rural areas, may intuit unfamiliar people and vehicles as threats to safety. But that isn’t always the case.
In one recent episode, a woman traveling a county road at 10 p.m. stopped her vehicle along the side to answer a phone text. An area resident sensed suspicious activity and reported the vehicle’s license plate number to the sheriff’s office.
“She wasn’t very happy about being called in on. She thinks she was being harassed,” Miller said.
And with the onset of hunting seasons “I can bet we’re going to have some suspicious vehicle calls,” he added.
The fact, however, is that this year Miller’s office has received nearly 60 fewer reports of suspicious activity than the 377 for all of 2014. And several related categories have remained fairly level in 2015 as compared to last year’s numbers: vehicle thefts, 14/10; larceny thefts, 156/147; suspicious person, 81/86; and suspicious vehicles, 186/183.
That being said, Miller would rather err on the side of resident safety, and welcomes reports to his office of alleged suspicious activity.
He occasionally follows posts on “Fulton County, Ohio Community Watch,” a Facebook page dedicated to tracking suspicious, possibly criminal activity in mostly rural or more isolated areas of the county. Sometimes, the page will alert him to potential problems.
“They’re sharing their information a lot quicker,” he said. “When you look at those pages you learn stuff that you’re not aware. So I am glad they post that stuff on there because I learn from it, too. I think it’s a good thing they look out for each other. It’s a good learning experience.”
Delta Police Chief Nathan Hartsock reported that, to date this year, several categories of activity have shown decreases in numbers from 2014: suspicious vehicle, 71/79; suspicious person, 57/62; theft complaints, 52/61; prowlers, 2/4.
The only increase in a reported category was unauthorized use of a motor vehicle: one this year as compared to none in 2014.
Hartsock said some calls to the police regarding those categories may prove to be unfounded or not what’s actually occurring.
The most recent criminal activity in the village was a spate of bicycle thefts over a two-day period. None have been recovered.
“We don’t have any major issues that I would call newsworthy,” Hartsock said. “Most of our stuff is crimes of opportunity. It’s pretty much business as usual.”
A village ordinance makes it illegal to leave keys in a vehicle, and it’s obviously an unsafe practice, he said, adding,”You’re basically inviting people to steal from you.”
Delta police officers on the night shift are encouraged to leave their vehicles and go on foot patrol when time allows. They’re also encouraged to converse with people they meet while walking the streets, and to ask questions.
“We’re not taking enforcement action on these people, we’re just educating them. I encourage our officers to make people aware,” Hartsock said.
Criminal activity in Wauseon usually occurs in spurts, but doesn’t reach epidemic proportions, Police Chief Keith Torbet said. Thefts of vehicles and property from yards often take place more frequently in, but are not exclusive to, summer months.
“Opportunity, weather – there are a lot of factors to it,” Torbet said. “If you make it easy for a criminal they’re going to take advantage of it.”
There were small increases in reports of suspicious vehicles and suspicious persons in the time periods between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1 of 2014 and 2015, from 46 to 53 and from 53 to 66, respectively. Stolen auto reports remained steady at four for both years. However, reported larcenies dropped roughly 20 percent over the last year in that time period, from 172 to 139.
Torbet cautioned that the numbers represent only those incidents reported. “You also have to remember that some cases are never called in,” he said.
Although the chatter on social media sites about suspicious activity can raise concerns, Torbet lauds the contributions.
“What you’re seeing is, people are paying more attention. It gets the work out quicker, and people are noticing things more,” he said.
Several local crimes have been solved through the police department’s Facebook page, he added.
“When we put up those pictures (of people or vehicles) we get a fairly good return. Sometimes, we get even partial information that’s very helpful,” Torbet said. “It’s much better for people to have the information and just be aware.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.