UPDATE 4/15/13 @ 6:30 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- After a big increase in property crimes in 2012 for an area of Huntington that includes the Highlawn neighborhood, crime reports show a drop in property crimes during the first three months of 2013.
But neighbors still don't feel safe. They say, and police agree, that these property crimes are mainly linked to drug activity and to an increase in rental properties.
"We see a direct correlation with property crime offenses with our drug problem," Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.
"Before drugs, this neighborhood was Mayberry. Now it's New York City," Dovel Burcham, a local store owner, said.
Burcham owns Dovel's General Store along 30th Street. In early April, burglars broke into his store on a Sunday night, prying open a steel door and taking money and cigarettes. He's sick of seeing crime in his neighborhood, and he's sick of the drugs that are fueling it.
"They steal off their own friends until that's gone, then they start breaking in strangers' houses," Burcham said.
"Folks that are addicted to drugs, they have to fuel their habit and they usually resort to petty crimes," Holbrook said.
In 2012, there were 471 property crimes in City Council District 8, which includes Highlawn. That's compared to 339 in 2011. Holbrook said the increase was largely due to car break-ins near St. Mary's Medical Center.
So far in 2013, numbers are down: only 11 property crime offenses in this area, compared to 24 in 2012 and 20 in 2011. But the neighbors are still feeling ill at ease.
"I've got young kids, I'm afraid to even let the kids come out and play in the yard," Jacob Moore said.
Several people in the neighborhood said they had grown up on these streets and that it used to be a nice neighborhood. As more homes become rental properties, however, there have been more drugs and more crimes.
"I can tell you like the old guys do, we used to leave our doors unlocked," Burcham said.
Moore, who has lived on this street for 35 years, said it's not the same place it used to be.
"It used to be everybody mowed your grass on Fridays, you didn't set your trash out til six, and it's not that way anymore," Moore said.
"With rental property, we see irresponsible landlords, absentee landlords," Holbrook said.
Another problem is that often, the same people are committing crimes over and over. Neighbors said they see the same few people doing drug deals and breaking into homes on their block.
"People that have been arrested for property crimes may or may not go to jail or go to prison, and when they get out they just re-offend," Holbrook said.
While the numbers are showing a downward trend, people still don't feel safe. Holbrook said he hopes his department can improve that perception.
"If we have some folks who are concerned about their safety, we've got to do a better job demonstrating to them that it is a safe neighborhood," Holbrook said.
Burcham said he is considering investing in surveillance cameras, but that buying an alarm system would cost too much.
"You figure up thirty dollars a month for that," Burcham said. "I would lose more money on the alarm system than what they could carry out of here, so it'd be silly for me to get it really."
The most recent incident happened Saturday night, when police were called to a home on the 2900-block of 7th Avenue for a break-in.
While the items taken in the break-in were returned to their owners, neighbors are sick of seeing the crimes happen on their streets. Even though they have an active neighborhood watch group of about 30 or 40 people, they said the situation hasn't improved.
"It's really escalated," Tom Fulks, a neighbor, said. "I know it's involving the drug trafficking going around in this area."
"We got signs posted everywhere," Doug Barnett, another neighbor who owns other properties in the area, said. "Now it just calls for everybody to start looking out for everybody."
Neighbors said they're constantly calling police and 911 after seeing suspicious activity on their streets linked to a few houses. They also said they see people walking up and down the streets at all hours and have even seen drug deals during the daytime.
"They want to get money to buy those drugs, so they're going to get it any means possible," Fulks said. "They've already stolen off their friends, family, so now it's down to whoever's not home."
"It'd be nice to be able to leave with your door open, and when you come back, it's still good," Barnett said.
Barnett noted that he has security cameras and alarm systems on his properties.
The neighbors' concerns are backed up by the Huntington Police Department's crime reports for 2012. WSAZ.com found out that police pegged this as a problem area for property crimes.
City Council District 8, which includes this area, has a "slightly above average" crime rate compared with the rest of the city, according to the report. In 2012, property crimes like burglaries dramatically increased: 471 took place in 2012, up from 339 in 2011.
This area, near Irvin Avenue and Baltimore Street is specifically noted in the report as one of the two most concentrated spots for property crimes, "due to a small group of individuals stealing property in connection with drug activity."
"A lot of times, it's the same people breaking into places, and then they're out in two or three months doing the same exact thing in the same exact neighborhood," Fulks said.
The frustration is evident among people in the community.
"[It's] sad. I lived across the street over there when I was a child," neighbor Gary Lapelle said.
Lapelle, who has polio, said that he's been targeted both in this neighborhood and in his old neighborhood nearby, robbed by people assuming he was taking pain medication for his illness.
The people who live here aren't prepared to give up just yet, but they said they hope there is a response before someone gets hurt.
"Everybody that's here, we're committed to the neighborhood, cause Highlawn is a nice neighborhood," Barnett said.