A couple of weeks ago, Daniel Canady came home to the stomach-dropping sight of his side door having been kicked in.
"I had just gotten off work on a Friday and that ain't the best thing to see," he said.
He told his 4-year-old son to stay outside as he searched the house room by room. Once he cleared the house, he realized the only thing that had been taken was his wife' Robin's jewelry box - a box which contained jewelry from her mother, who died when she was 10 years old.
"(The burglar) took the one thing I couldn't replace with money," said Robin.
The Canadys never expected something like that could happen in their quiet neighborhood on a dead-end street. Both entrances are easily seen from the street, they explained, and the next-door-neighbors are home most of the day.
"I was amazed to see that our house was broken into," said Robin. "It's one of those things you don't realize how vulnerable it is until it happens."
The perpetrator turned out to be a close friend Robin had known from high school who had a drug habit. They were astonished that the 125 pound woman, who is currently in jail but made headlines last week when she briefly escaped custody, had been able to annihilate the lower portion of the door.
Robin luckily was able to recover about half the jewelry, which she hopes to pass on to her future daughters or grandchildren, from pawn shops and with the help of the Newton County Sheriff's Office.
"I am amazed to have gotten back what I've gotten back. I'd already gone through the grieving process of knowing what was gone," she said.
The Canadys replaced their door, installed new locks and are investing in an alarm system to fortify their house. Robin said she's learned her lesson and has taken out a safety deposit box at the bank for her valuables.
Unfortunately, they are only one couple of thousands of people in Newton County that find themselves the victim of a burglar, thief or metal scavenger every year.
In 2006, there were 2,500 property crimes reported in Newton County, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, or about 2.7 incidents per 100 people. This represented a 2 percent increase over the previous year.
About 33 percent of those were burglaries, 54 percent larcenies, and about 13 percent automobile thefts. In 2007, the Newton County Sheriff's Office reported 2,253 property crimes, with about 32 percent of those burglaries, 60 percent larcenies and 8 percent automobile thefts.
Newton County's rate is generally below the state average, which was about 3.6 crimes per 100 people in 2006, and the national average, which occurred at a rate of about 3.3 per 100 people in 2006. The state average had dropped about 9 percent and the national average dropped about 1.9 percent from 2005 to 2006.
Still, the cost of property crime is not insignificant. The total economic losses from property crimes nationally in 2006 was estimated at $17.6 billion, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report - an amount comparable to one-fourth of the money the U.S. spends on its federal education budget.
And then there's the intangible emotional and social damage suffered by victims of a property crime, such as sense of insecurity and less willingness to trust.
"The number one thing I hear from victims is that they feel violated," said NCSO Lt. Bill Watterson. "A stranger has been in their home and that's the most violated feeling they have."
Though the rates of property crime and crime in general have been steadily declining since the mid-1990s, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, with the recent economic slowdown, the question naturally arises whether people might expect to see an increase in property crimes.
The relationship between economic health and crime is a complex one and often not direct, says Dr. Dean Dabney, associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University.
He pointed out the crime rates climbed during the economic growth of the 1980s but continued to drop despite the recession of the early 2000s.
He said with property crime, a significant portion is driven by the drug problem, as the Canadys discovered.
"You've got a lot of folks stealing to support habits. Economics don't affect them. Their habit is their habit," said Dabney.
Some estimates attribute as much as 70 to 80 percent of property crime is by drug users, said Dabney, who noted drug users often have histories of property crimes.
"It's a gamut," said Covington Police Department spokesperson Detective Daniel Seals. "Some of it is dope related. Some of them, that's just how they make their living. That's their work," he said, adding not too many express remorse at their actions.
"They don't care," agreed Watterson. "They do not see a problem with taking things from others," he said. "But that's nothing new."
Though the economy does not affect habitual offenders as much, where it does have an impact are with the everyday citizens who find themselves leaning towards petty crime.
"With respect to employee theft, shoplifting, everyday crimes perpetrated by average citizens, not habitual criminals, there is a relationship between economic downturn and the likelihood someone is going to engage in those behaviors," said Dabney.
Property crimes are often crimes of opportunity, say both experts and law enforcement officials.
"Burglars, generally are lazy people and want to take the best chance of not getting caught," said Sheriff Joe Nichols.
Studies have shown, perhaps counter intuitively, that criminals tend to commit crimes in areas that are nearby and convenient to them, said Dabney. He noted that thefts of items from automobiles like laptops and GPS units from cars often fall in this category.
The best way to avoid property crime is to not make yourself an easy target, say experts.
For starters, lock your windows and doors, said Seals.
"We still see reports where stuff is stolen out of cars and houses and the doors weren't locked. There was a time in this area and nation when you could do that, and unfortunately I don't know that we're there," said Seals.
He also recommended that valuable items in cars, including GPS units and electronics, be stored out of sight. "If they look in and see something nice lying in the car, that car might be a target," he said.
A strong, solid door and locks are also critical to securing a house, said Nichols.
"It's a mystery to me, some of these houses cost a quarter million and they'll put the cheapest set of locks and doors they can find," he said.
Lights, such as motion detector lights outside and leaving a light on inside can be a good deterrent at night. Video surveillance systems are also becoming more affordable and can provide a great deal of evidence in prosecuting criminals.
To protect vents and other openings, along with grates, nearby bushes or vines with vicious thorns can dissuade people from attempting to use them as entrances, he said.
Other expensive items normally kept outdoors, such as lawnmowers and bicycles, should be kept locked in a secure area.
To help protect valuables inside the home, purchasing a fireproof safe that bolts into the floor, which cost as little as $100 to $200, can be a very good investment, said Seals. Smaller items can also be stored in containers specially designed to look like common household items.
Often, victims will be able to recover at least a portion of their stolen goods from pawn shops, but only if they are able to prove it belongs to them.
One of the most useful things to do to help recover stolen items is to keep a record of your valuables and possessions by writing down the serial numbers of all electronics and items that have serial numbers.
Without serial numbers, it's very hard to tell one TV from another, pointed out Seals.
Putting a unique marking on your items can also help recover stolen goods.
For items without serial numbers, Watterson recommends making a record of all your belongings with a digital camera or video recorder and keeping that recording in a safe place.
Even with the most extensive precautions, a person can still become a victim, warned Seals.
"Nothing is foolproof. If they want to get in your house, in your car, it might very well happen," he said.
But, by making yourself a difficult target, perhaps they'll think twice about your property, he said.