By Ed Brock
Mickel McKeever had been literally saving his pennies ever since seeing pictures of the ship on which his grandmother had taken a cruise.
Then last week somebody broke into the apartment in Tracewood Apartments near Forest Park where 3-year-old Mickel and his mother Dorothy Long live in Forest Park and stole the nearly $20 he'd managed to save.
"They took my piggy bank, my money," Mickel said.
The thieves, in their third robbery of Long's apartment, had also taken the television and VCR. So when the grandmother was babysitting Mickel recently and he asked if he could watch his favorite videos she had to explain to him that he had nothing to watch them on.
"He just fell back and started saying ?I just want to get out of here,'" the grandmother said. "I felt about one-inch tall."
Now Long is boxing up her belongings and looking for another place to live, but she's worried about breaking her lease that doesn't end until May. The lease doesn't specify what security procedures Tracewood management is required to take, but Long and her neighbor, Bernadette Brown, think something should be done.
"We pay our rent and we have no security," Brown said.
The burglars come in through the rear windows of the apartment that faces a woodline. The two women say they take everything valuable, including Brown's computer, and in one break-in at Long's apartment they emptied Mickel's toy box in order to fill it with loot.
"This last time they took a TV that wasn't even paid for," Long said. "My son's afraid to go to the bathroom alone in his own house."
The burglars came in through the bathroom window once and another time they entered the apartment through Mickel's bedroom window while both of them were home.
"Luckily my son was in bed with me," Long said.
Long, 24, is one of many single mothers living in the complex on Sylvia Road who are drawn there because it is a subsidized affordable housing development. That also means things like security cameras and alarms are not available, said Alice Morris with Morris and Associates, the company that manages the complex.
"The owner of this property does not provide security," Morris said. "Some of the more sophisticated systems are cost prohibitive on this kind of property."
Instead, Morris said they are putting an emphasis on a community-based approach, getting neighbors to look out for each other. Morris' company has only been managing the complex since June, she said, and last week's burglary of Long's apartment was the first such incident that they know of to have occurred since they came in.
Since that burglary the company has been looking into forming a neighborhood watch program.
"Those have been proven effective," Morris said.
Police patrols are automatically increased in areas where crimes have been known to occur, Clayton County police Capt. Jeff Turner said, and patrols will be increased in the Tracewood area as well. But Turner also urges residents who see suspicious people or notice anything else out of the ordinary to call police.
One of Long's neighbor's apparently heard noises coming from Long's apartment when the last burglary was occurring but, though she knew Long wasn't home, the neighbor didn't think to call the police.
Brown and Long say they are far from being the only victims, and most of the break-ins occur in the first floor apartments. Brown said she thinks the burglars live nearby and are aware of when they leave to go to work.
"We've got to go to work," Brown said. "They've got to do something."