Burglaries leave Libertyresidentsseeking help

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 19, 2003

Home is where the heart is, and where most people feel safest. But that’s not the case for some residents of the Liberty community, located west of Greenville.

The residents of that community have been suffering from a rash of robberies and break-ins recently, and are &uot;up-in-arms&uot; about the inability of the Butler County Sheriff’s office to stop them.

A group of Liberty citizens held a neighborhood watch meeting at the Liberty Fire Department last Thursday night to discuss the situation with the sheriff and other county officials.

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&uot;We have been robbed and our homes have been broken into – some twice – and we’re tired of it,&uot; Liberty resident Betty Love said. &uot;The law won’t do anything about it. The new judge we just voted in just slaps them on the wrist, and lets them go. One department blames another.&uot;

Love came home recently and caught four young men in the act of robbing her home.

&uot;I put my life at risk catching them myself,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s so bad that I don’t go in my house without a gun in my hand. I drive around with what’s left of my jewelry in my car.&uot;

When asked about the lack of response from the sheriff’s department, Butler County Sheriff Diane Harris says it boils down to a lack of manpower.

&uot;I’m having trouble getting enough deputies to work at the department because we aren’t able to pay them enough,&uot; she said. &uot;Right now, I only have five certified deputies. I need 12 deputies to adequately cover the county.&uot;

The sheriff said the starting pay for certified deputies is $8.50 per hour, uncertified deputies – Harris has one – start at $8 per hour.

&uot;Right now, all of the deputies are working 16 hour shifts, and are either on-duty or on-call every day of the week,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m having to shift around whenever we have to do a lot of transports [for prisoners]. I’m using the courthouse security guard and jailers help with transports and things like that.&uot;

Love and her co-complainants decided to take action to deter further break-ins by setting up a neighborhood watch in the community.

&uot;Somebody’s got to put a stop to it,&uot; Love said. &uot;This robbery streak has been going on for four or five years.&uot;

County Commissioner Jesse McWilliams, who attended the Liberty meeting, said he is looking into the matter of the deputies’ pay to see what, if anything, can be done to get more deputies on board at the sheriff’s office.&uot;

&uot;When I ran for office, my platform was economic development, improving education and county safety,&uot; McWilliams said. &uot;I’m going to work on this to see what can be done.&uot;

County records show that that the sheriff’s department budget is $508,952.62. McWilliams said the county commission would have to approve any budget increase for the sheriff’s department, but said they would look into the matter.

In the meantime, Love and her fellow Liberty community residents feel vulnerable and hope the watch will help keep themselves, their homes and property safe.

&uot;We’re just left out here defenseless,&uot; she said. &uot;We’re scared to go anywhere. It’s just not going to get any better until somebody gets killed. I’m about ready to move to town.&uot;

Harris said that her department is doing all they can to protect the residents despite her staff shortfall.

&uot;We have always had patrols that go through there at least once a day,&uot; she said. &uot;We have even had deputies on stake-outs in the community trying to catch the robbers. We patrol as often as possible between handling other calls.&uot;

Love said she understood the sheriff’s limitations.

&uot;The fault basically lies with the district judge and district attorney,&uot; she said. &uot;Robbery doesn’t seem too important to this whole court system. It’s lightly taken. The system is very weak right now.&uot;

Both District Judge MacDonald Russell and District Attorney John Andrews were invited to the watch meeting but did not attend and were not immediately available for comment.