Despite recent good news about crime, home invasions increase

— The man who stormed through the door of Christopher Woods' house in North Palm Beach on March 27 demanding "the money and guns" claimed he was with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

By the time he left, the 47-year-old Woods had been shot and wounded. And the man, later identified as 31-year-old Jay R. Curtis, walked out with $1,019 and a .45 Glock handgun, police say .

Curtis was picked up and arrested within hours of the robbery - part of a trend that has local law enforcement officials breathing at least a partial sigh of relief.

Local law enforcement officials crow about a solid three-year drop in the county's overall crime rate, a fact bolstered by 2011 statistics released April 30 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

But the numbers for robberies, which includes home invasions, suggest the rate of decline may be slowing.

In 2010, authorities reported 2,018 robberies countywide, 649 fewer than in 2009. And while in 2011 there were still fewer robberies - only 1,881 - the decrease was just 137.

Also, although the number of arrests for home invasions in Palm Beach County has been declining over the past three years - from 108 in 2009 down to 88 in 2011 - arrests in the first quarter of this year are slightly ahead of the same period last year.

Police have made 19 home-invasion arrests in the first four months of the year, compared to 17 over the same period in 2011, records show .

Lt. Michael Wingate, head of the robbery unit at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, said robberies are down overall because of better policing, including faster responses. And home invasions often have something to do with drugs, he said.

Home invaders "don't randomly pick houses," Wingate said, stressing that county residents need not be alarmed by the bump in arrests. "When we get a home invasion case, we start looking for why."

For victims, home-invasion robberies are potentially among the most violent crimes, largely because they involve some type of weapon.

Last month, 36-year-old Ryan Walker told West Palm Beach police that a man had brandished a knife, forced him into his apartment and demanded money.

The intruder, who was later identified as Charlie Harris, 23, made away with two credit cards and $400 that was being stored in a cardboard box.

And on March 10, the resident of a trailer in the 3000 block of South Congress Avenue told sheriff's investigators that he was sitting in the living room with a woman when a gunman wearing a black ski mask broke in and demanded cash and jewelry.

The man, later identified as 47-year-old Frankie Cintron, pistol-whipped the resident before walking out with $7 and threatening to kill both the man and the woman should they call police.

But again, robbery detectives emphasize there can be more than what meets the eye in most home invasion cases.

When asked, for example, to comment on the March 27 home invasion in his city, North Palm Beach Police Chief Richard Jenkins said: "It is certainly not your garden-variety home invasion."

He declined to elaborate, citing the still open case.

But, he added that the "general public" should not be fearful of any home invasion trend in North Palm Beach.

In fact, Wingate said, victims targeted at random for home invasions are rare.

He said many of the cases the sheriff's office works include people who have drugs - particularly prescription pills - excess cash or weapons around their house, making them susceptible to robbers.

On Oct. 28, for example, sheriff's officials say 31-year-old Jennifer Calzolari robbed a Loxahatchee home in the 13000 block of 49th Street with "three or four" unknown "black or Hispanic" men armed with handguns and dressed in all black.

Detectives later found "numerous prescription pill bottles, many still filled" throughout drawers and the master bedroom of the house. Sitting beside an open, empty oxycodone bottle was a "marijuana smoking pipe."

That bottle was dated for a refill of 150 oxycodone pills, according to the incident report.

"A lot of times there's some reason they are there, and it's not because of your television," Win-gate said. "These people are predators. It's just what they do."

What remains to be seen is whether the county's three-year slide in reported home-invasion robberies is coming to an end.

Authorities are responding faster, and that increases the chances of making an arrest, said Deputy Eric Davis, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

"Quicker responses and our resources, such as our K-9 (units) and the helicopter, helps," Davis said.

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Home invaders

Home-invasion robbery arrests have declined since 2009. But arrests in the first third of 2012 are up from the same period in 2011.

2009 108

2010

99

2011 88

2012* 19

*Jan. 1-April 30

Source: Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office

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