By David Howell
Just about every church in the county has sought-after electronics, audio equipment. This equipment has become the prized target for thieves in eight churches in Yalobusha and other churches in surrounding counties during a rash of break-ins in recent weeks.
“We had two more churches hit in the last week,” an exasperated Sheriff Lance Humphreys reported Tuesday morning. In some of the break-ins there are no items reported missing, only damage to a door or window was kicked in. Other churches, usually the larger ones, have reported thousands of dollars worth stolen audio equipment.
Humphreys said everyone in the department had logged long hours patrolling primarily rural churches in the county.
“Everybody in the department has pulled several nights of stake-outs,” the sheriff added. “I even have deputies that are going out and volunteering their own time, everyone wants to catch them.”
Humphreys said he had intensified his patrol along eastern portions of the county, near Calhoun County.
“Calhoun County also had several break-ins and we were working closely with their sheriff’s department when the next two break-ins occurred in western portions of Yalobusha,” Humphreys reported.
The latest targets were Philadelphia Church on County Road 211 outside Oakland and Mt. Zion Baptist Church near Tillatoba.
According to Calhoun County Sheriff Billy Mac Gore, his county has reported five break-ins, Montgomery has three, Carroll has six, Talahatchie has one and Attala has one.
Like Yalobusha, Gore said the churches broken into have been small community churches near the county lines, and usually sound equipment has been taken.
“I believe this is a professional ring,” Humphreys said. Other counties with similar break-ins include Montgomery, Calhoun and Carroll counties.
Humphreys said his department is working to take a proactive approach.
“We sat down and marked 35 churches on a map of the county,” Humphreys said, identifying patrol routes and areas to stake out at rural churches.
At the same time deputies hand-delivered letters to many Yalobusha churches last Wednesday night.
“We are asking churches to help take a few precautions that could thwart a potential break-in,” the sheriff said.
Securing doors at churches with deadbolts and latches at the top and bottom could deter the crime.
“It seems whoever is doing these crimes do not want to spend a lot of time trying to get in,” Humphreys said.
Humphreys is also asking churches to record serial numbers of anything valuable in the church.
“In most cases, nobody has the serial numbers on the equipment reported missing,” Humphreys said. “They have had this equipment for years.”
Humphreys also asked churches to put some type of marking on their equipment, like writing the church name with an etcher or placing a sticker on the inside of a speaker.
“This could make it easier to recover the equipment and catch these folks,” Humphreys added.
One bit of good news – deputies discovered an active meth lab just north of Oakland Monday night while patrolling near a church on Hwy. 51.
Kenneth Hardy was arrested after deputies discovered a vehicle containing precursors in the vicinity of a church. A subsequent search turned up a working meth lab on a dead-end road.
“We called the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics in to help process the scene,” Humphreys said. A second person is expected to be charged in the meth lab bust.
(Calhoun County Journal Associate Editor Lisa McNeese contributed to this story.)
City Crime Report
WATER VALLEY – Lt. Rick McCuan of the Water Valley Police Department reported the following law enforcement activity within the Water Valley City limits during the past week:
• Made four arrests for driving under suspension;
• Made two arrests for petty larceny;
• Made an arrest for shoplifting, first offense;
• Made an arrest for DUI, first offense;
• Made an arrest for public drunk;
• Made an arrest for the Dept. of Corrections;
• Took a report of credit card fraud.
• Took a report of telephone harassment;
• Took a report of identity theft;
• Issue a citation for possession of beer by a minor;
• Issue a citation for possession of beer in a city park;
• Issue two citations for parking on the grass in a city park;
• Issue 51 traffic citations.