While Shawn Eigenbrode was at work one day, burglars hit his house the same way they have hit many others in the Pigtown neighborhood over the past six months.
They broke in, yanked a ringing alarm off the wall and then ransacked his Southwest Baltimore house. They stole a desktop computer and other smaller items, Eigenbrode said.
Some good news came last week, when word spread that police had arrested a man who they believe is responsible for at least 10 of the 83 burglaries in Pigtown during the last half of 2007. But Eigenbrode's wasn't one of them. The November burglary of his house remains unsolved.
So he and other residents of Pigtown are continuing with a broad campaign to help police catch burglars responsible for the break-ins. But residents are also demanding more attention from police. The stakes are high in a neighborhood that in recent years has attracted new residents and investors who have renovated once-dilapidated properties into well-polished rental units.
"Suddenly a neighborhood that a couple years ago didn't have a whole lot that was worth stealing, now it's on the upswing and we're a target," said Eigenbrode, 39, who is an administrator at the University of Maryland, College Park. "I'm no expert, but certainly that's what a lot of us [residents] are saying."
Maj. Michael McDonald, commander of the Southern District, said Pigtown had 18 more burglaries in the last six months of the year than in the same period in 2006. He said he's shifted more police officers to cover the neighborhood and to walk foot patrols during the day.
Most of the burglaries have occurred while residents are at work, McDonald said. Burglars case homes by walking down streets, knocking on doors or watching to see when people leave in the morning, he said. When they see an opportunity, they break into the house from the rear alley, he said. In several cases, the burglars were not deterred by alarms - they simply worked quickly before the residents or police arrived.
"The positive thing is the community is extremely supportive and helpful," McDonald said. "They're organizing citizen on patrols, they're organizing phone trees. ... While they're recognizing there's a problem, they're doing everything they can to assist us."
McDonald said that alert residents on New Year's Day helped catch a man who police said they believe is responsible for 10 burglaries last year in Pigtown. According to police charging documents, the suspect and an accomplice were attempting to steal a refrigerator and a microwave from a renovated house in the 1200 block of Cleveland St.
A neighbor called the homeowner, who rushed to the house, and they followed the man who was carrying the microwave, the documents said. They flagged down a passing police officer, who arrested the man; the other man got away, police said.
Police charged Michael A. Peacock, 34, with burglary and related offenses. Peacock, who has a long history of drug and burglary arrests and convictions, is being held in the city detention center on $50,000 bail.
Eigenbrode, who is loosely affiliated with neighborhood groups but helps keep residents connected on crime issues by e-mail, said he has many neighbors who moved into the neighborhood in recent years. He said many are frustrated, but not yet ready to leave the city.
"In moments of frustration, they say, 'God, why do we live here? Why do we put up with this? Remind me,'" Eigenbrode said. "And we do remind each other."