Every time John Welborn and his wife return to their home at the end of a dead-end gravel road in rural Jefferson County, they have the same thought:
"Is our door going to be kicked open?"
They've been burglarized 13 times since the late 1970s: seven home burglaries, four outbuilding burglaries and two vehicle burglaries.
The last time, the Welborns' home was trashed - dresser drawers thrown across the room, pottery raked from a shelf and food tossed from the refrigerator across to the living room.
Burglary affects a fairly small portion of the community every year; there are about seven for every 1,000 residents in Douglas County, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. But the effects on the victims can be life-rattling.
"Some people put in security systems. Some people buy guns. That relaxing sense of security is gone," said Dolores Moseley, a victim-witness advocate for Douglas County Dist. Atty. Charles Branson. "They feel they've been violated. : Some people have counseling. Some people have nightmares."
A serious matter
The Welborns' most recent burglary, in spring 2005, was the first in what prosecutors allege was a four-county burglary spree that led to the killing of 77-year-old Clarence David Boose in rural Lecompton. So far one man, Leonard W. Price, has been charged in Boose's death.
Welborn said that given what he's seen, the system doesn't take burglary as seriously as it should.
"These people are being allowed to operate in society even though they've been in my home or your home," he said.
Earlier this year, a bill died in the Senate that would have sent repeat burglars to prison earlier - for example, requiring prison instead of probation for second-time residential burglars. But the bill likely would have required the construction of new prison space because of an increased number of inmates.
Lt. Doug Woods, a spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, said burglaries in the county typically were committed by people from other counties. They're looking for anything that can be loaded into a car quickly and converted to cash - electronics, DVD players, guns, jewelry.
"Typically, residential burglars aren't in the house more than 15, 20 minutes," he said.
In general, burglaries are more common in areas that are more densely populated. In 2004, the nationwide rate for burglaries in rural areas was 28 of every 1,000 households, compared with 42 per 1,000 households for urban areas.
But Woods said one of the problems his office found is that people in the county often seem reluctant to report suspicious activity. By the time they think to call the sheriff about that suspicious car down the road, it's too late to catch anyone.
Restitution not guaranteed
Welborn said he was glad to hear that the people linked to the recent burglary spree - Topeka residents Price and Allen D. Smith - had been sentenced to prison in one of the burglaries, and that Price had been charged with murder in the Lecompton killing.
Here are some tips from police on how to prevent home burglaries: ¢ Keep valuables hidden. ¢ Lock doors and windows. ¢ Consider leaving a TV or radio on during the day to deter a would-be burglar. ¢ Report suspicious activity. ¢ Keep your home well lit at night. ¢ Use common sense. The Lawrence Police Department offers more crime prevention tips online at www.lawrencepolice.org.
But he said another frustration was that he's unlikely to be reimbursed for the more than $5,000 worth of items stolen from his home.
In three prior burglaries at his home, he's received an order for restitution, but it's never been paid.
In Douglas County, the court trustee's office is designated to collect money from criminals who owe restitution, but many counties in Kansas don't have that system in place. Often, the role of "collection agent" falls to prosecutors or probation officers who have higher priorities.
"A lot of (probation officers) have an ungodly case load to begin with. They just maintain their meetings and make sure people aren't violating the law," said Kyle Smith, a spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. "I think there are some problems with that throughout the state."
Welborn said he's been told to get an attack dog, but he said a determined burglar might just kill the animal. He has an alarm system, but on the day of the last burglary he forgot to turn it on.
People ask him why he and his wife don't move. He says that's the wrong question.
"Why should we have to move because of the thieves?" he said.