Crooks are creatures of habit.

Take James Emerton. Police say the 46-year-old walked into a back office at Becky’s Diner one day this spring and swiped $1,000 in cash. A month later, the longtime thief came back for more, according to the charges against him.

Across town, a resident off Veranda Street realized she was a burglary victim this week when her checking account was overdrawn by somebody who had stolen a checkbook.

She changed all her locks, but a day later another burglary, via a basement window, cost her a laptop and jewelry. Police expect to make an arrest soon.

Portland police say it is not unusual for burglars to hit the same house or same business, or in the case of downtown apartment buildings, nearby units.

Police are taking steps to arm residents with that knowledge as a way to prevent future burglaries.

“Besides knowing where to focus our own efforts, we’re also reaching out to people in the neighborhood, letting them know it’s going on and asking for their help, being extra vigilant and reporting suspicious behavior,” said Cmdr. Vern Malloch, head of operations.

Patrol officers taking the initial burglary report now hand out fliers while canvassing the neighborhood.

The brochures give residents tips for preventing burglaries and how to communicate with police if they see something suspicious. The fliers also put residents on notice that a burglar is operating in the area and they could be the next victim.

“We try to talk with people and not just leave a flier in the door so folks aren’t overly concerned or alarmed,” Malloch said.

Portland’s crime analyst, Lisa Konopka, studied the city’s burglary trends for the past three years. What she found was that a North Deering home that has experienced a burglary is twice as likely to have another burglary within the next 30 days as another home in the city.

Criminals are drawn to what is familiar, comfortable and successful. They might know the layout, the residents’ patterns or whether a security system is in place. So if they were able to get in and out of a house once, they’re drawn to go back. Sometimes they can’t stop thinking about the items they left behind.

“There are certain comfort factors that bring them back to the same house,” said Lt. Gary Rogers of the detective bureau. “They know how to get in, or they’re familiar with the victim and how they spend their time.”

The percentages are even more startling closer to downtown, where more people live closer together.

When somebody breaks into a home on the peninsula or in the western part of the city, that address, often an apartment building, is almost three times as likely to have another burglary within 30 days, Konopka said.

A burglar might be checking apartment doors for ones that are unlocked. Even people who are home but in a back room might not realize it takes only seconds for a thief to step in, grab a purse or car keys and leave, she said.

Deterring crime is vastly more effective than making arrests, Konopka said. Only some burglaries lead to suspects, and an even smaller percentage lead to an arrest and jail time. That rarely compensates the victim for lost property.

But the lost sense of security can be even more costly.

“There’s a certain sanctity to the home that’s recognized by society,” Malloch said. “The Constitution protects us from the police invading our homes, and laws are supposed to protect us from criminals invading our homes.

“It’s very disturbing for most people to think someone broke in and rummaged through their things when they’re not there, or more so when the residence is occupied,” he said.

“That’s part of the reason why breaking into someone’s home is a felony crime.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]