Volusia sheriff's detectives solving record number of break-ins

County's burglary clearing rate 3 times higher than national average

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - Often, home burglaries leave homeowners hopeless and helpless, but Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said his deputies are working to change that.

"When I arrived here in 2006, the Daytona Beach Police Department did not conduct burglary investigations," Chitwood said.

Chitwood said several departments don't have the manpower to investigate all petty crimes, such as theft.

But that's not the case in Volusia County.

"We have never done that since 2006," Chitwood said. "We're looking for DNA, fingerprints, video evidence. We're trying to track where the stolen items were going, who's on probation in the neighborhood, who did we arrest before."

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Chitwood said, in Volusia County, his detectives get results by giving every case the same attention.

"We investigate a stolen Christmas decoration with the same energy and the same paradigm as we would a homicide or armed robbery," Chitwood said.

That's why the number of crimes is going down and the number of cases cleared is going up in Volusia County, according to Chitwood.

The Sheriff's Office provided statistics to News 6 that show there were 206 burglaries in the Deltona area in 2018 and 86 of those cases were solved, resulting in a clearing rate of 42 percent.

In 2017, in the same area, there were 212 total burglaries and 77 were solved, for a clearing rate of 36 percent.

In 2016, in the same area, there were 326 burglaries and only 83 were solved, for a clearing rate of 25 percent.

Chitwood said the countywide numbers reflect the same trend.

Sheriff's Office statistics show burglaries across Volusia County have steadily dropped since 2016, while the clearing rate has increased. In 2018, 36 percent of burglaries were cleared countywide.

In December, when detectives learned of a spike in burglaries in one Deltona neighborhood, Deltona-based Detective Jarett Wooleyhan said the entire office collaborated.

"If there's a lead we can follow up on and we can solve something, we're going to solve it, no matter what it is," Wooleyhan said. "It's kind of a personal attack on somebody's privacy. If somebody broke into my home, I would like to believe my local law enforcement would do everything to find out who and get my stuff back, so I try and do the same in Deltona."

Wolleyhan said a couple broke into 15 homes within a 2-mile radius in two weeks. 

A homeowner spotted one of the suspects carrying a TV out of a house and gave detectives a description of the getaway car, which a deputy discovered was parked only blocks away, Wolleyhan said.

"They live in our community," Wolleyhan said. "One of the victims was actually their direct neighbor, their next-door neighbor."

Wooleyhan said detectives arrested Gabriella Soto and Desmond Watson and charged them in 14 of the 15 break-ins.

Wooleyhan said the couple was selling the stolen items at pawn shops. He recovered many of the items and returned them to the homeowners.

 "When you have a group of dedicated professionals who come to work in this city and they say we're going to get results, and if they don't, at least I know -- and their victims should know -- they did everything possible to solve the case," Chitwood said.

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