House of Worship, or house of expensive goods? Thieves in Lakeland target churches for break-ins.

Why are criminals in the Lakeland area targeting churches for a string of break-ins? The Polk County Sheriff's Office is trying to figure that out. (Photo by Steve Schwartz).

LAKELAND – It’s not yet a clear trend, but the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is asking for the public’s help in trying to solve a series of burglaries in the Lakeland area where the thieves aim for an unusual target.
What’s odd about these break-ins, said Carrie S. Eleazer, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, is the properties that are getting hit: not private homes, convenience stores, or parked cars, which are often the target of overnight break-ins. This time, she said, the burglars have gone after churches.
Eleazer said that’s unusual, since churches tend not to attract people looking to steal things.
“I don’t know why they would be targeted,” she said.
Polk County Sheriff’s deputies are asking for the public on this open case, to let them know if they have any information about the burglaries that occurred at several churches in the Lakeland area.
All three occurred on Monday, Dec. 12. Sometime between the hours of 1 and 4:40 a.m., someone broke into three different churches. The first was at Eastside Baptist Church at 630 Eastside Drive in Lakeland, where the door was kicked in and the alarm sounded, although it doesn’t appear that anything was taken from the property.
The second was at Working Together With Jesus Baptist Ministries, located at 2935 U.S. 92 East in Lakeland. The windows got broken, and the alarm sounded. But again, there’s no indication anything was stolen from the building.
The third happened at Christ Memorial Baptist Church at 2929 Hardin Combee Road in Lakeland. Officials at the church later reported that money was possibly taken from the church office.
As Eleazer noted, deputies believe these three incidents are related, and they’re asking the public to call Detective Michael Carver at 863-499-2400 if anyone has any useful information on these break-ins.
Carver declined comment on the case, except to say the investigation is active and ongoing.
Eleazer said churches are not often obvious targets for thieves.
“What we’re looking at here is break-ins,” she said. “We had two prior churches that got broken into a few weeks back, so we’re up to a total of five now.”
All Faith Baptist Church at 302 Longfellow Boulevard in Lakeland was broken into on Nov. 23 around 7:30 p.m., then again at 8:45 a.m. on Nov. 27. Someone got in through a front window. The only thing reported stolen was a couple of dollars in change.
Crystal Lake Baptist Church at 1000 Mount Airy Ave. in Lakeland was broken into twice as well, at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 26 and 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 27. The person involved in the break in smashed in the windows, and once inside the church, kicked open several doors. Damage to the church was estimated at $1,000, although nothing was removed from the building.
Part of the reason these churches may be getting targeted, Eleazer said, is they’re not in areas with a high amount of visibility.
“It may just be with the locations, since these churches are off the beaten path,” she said. “They’re a little bit out of the way where they’re located.”
But it could also just be part of a larger trend of a rising number of burglaries in the Lakeland area, Eleazer said.
“The Lakeland Police Department has been working on a huge rash of burglaries,” she said.
She added that while rare, churches have on occasion been targets of robberies.
“Oddly enough,” Eleazer said, “we’ve worked them before.”
Anyone with information on these robberies, who wants to remain anonymous but be eligible for a cash reward, can call 1-800-226-TIPS or log on to
Heartland Crime Stoppers.
iPhone and Droid users can download a free tip submit app to anonymously report crime. To install these free apps, visit Tip Soft.

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