After three cars and a neighbor's garage were broken into recently on Tamarack Place, the neighbors decided to take action, calling a community meeting and inviting both the Ashland Police Department and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

After three cars and a neighbor's garage were broken into recently on Tamarack Place, the neighbors decided to take action, calling a community meeting and inviting both the Ashland Police Department and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

About 15 neighbors came to the meeting Tuesday night and wanted to know why the two agencies couldn't work together to prevent what some perceived as an "epidemic" of crime in an area frequented by transients.

The street is a popular parking place for hikers using the Oredson-Todd and White Rabbit trail systems and, residents speculated, homeless transients camping in the watershed. It is right on the border of the city and county law enforcement jurisdictions.

"I don't see why you can't work together," said David Jones, whose wife, Kathi Bowen-Jones was home when a burglar broke into the car in their garage last week. "We have an epidemic. It's unbelievable to me that our police force isn't aware of it."

Bowen-Jones said she believes the burglar was in the garage with her at the same time she was letting her dogs out. The dogs did not bark at the intruder, leading her to believe the person had been living nearby, perhaps even in their garden shed, and was familiar with the animals.

Neighbors have heard of several other car break-ins in adjacent neighborhoods, but only about half of them were reported to police, they said.

APD Sgt. Bob Smith and Deputy Brendan Dodge with the sheriff's office told residents that limited staffing means they must work together with other agencies and area residents. Dodge, for example, was one of three officers on duty that night, responsible for covering 1,200 square miles. He emphasized that residents should not hesitate to call police and report suspicious activity, because that directs officers where to patrol and can often prevent crimes from occurring.

Because most thefts are crimes of opportunity, the best thing residents can do is watch out for each other and make it harder for thieves to strike, they said.

Most victims of car break-ins left their doors unlocked or had items attractive to thieves visible on the seat, Dodge said. Many car thefts also occur with the keys in the ignition and the engine running, he added.

"Most people don't think about being a victim until they actually have been," Smith said.

The officers shared crime prevention strategies designed to force thieves to find an easier target, such as locking doors or posting signs warning about alarms or dogs.

Signs declaring a neighborhood watch are largely ineffective, they said, because most thieves strike between midnight and 4 a.m., when they know no one is watching. A better strategy for residents is to know who their neighbors are, what vehicle they drive and how to contact them in case of emergency, Smith said.

Residents said they felt the meeting equipped them to deal with a problem they were suddenly more aware of.

"I really feel it was positive," Bowen-Jones said after the meeting. "I just think it's good for neighbors to learn who each other are and start looking out for each other. We're in a high-traffic area and it's something we should have done a long time ago."

Neighbor Jim Moore said he was not worried about a rising crime epidemic.

"I think we're overreacting," he said. "Just use common sense and get yourself a chocolate lab."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.