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Sheriff's weapon in fighting crime -- blinking signs

Faced with a spike in residential burglaries, one Missouri sheriff has pulled out an unusual crime-fighting weapon -- blinking electronic signs.

"We wanted to let the criminals know that everyone was watching out for them and talking about them in their neighborhoods," Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott told msnbc.com on Wednesday. "We wanted the bad guys to know they had no business around here."


Arnott said deputies last week staked out three areas hit hard in this rural town of 90,000 by thefts and positioned electronic signs that flashed "Sheriff's Crime Alert. Burglaries/Thefts on the rise. Report suspicious activity."

Arnott said the signs have sparked some controversy.

"The ones who have complained have been real estate agents and homeowners who are trying to sell their homes," Arnott told msnbc.com. "It was reminders to all that you were living in an area with a high crime rate.”

Arnott said Greene County has been hit hard this year by home and vehicle burglaries. For example, 190 burglaries were reported in the last three months of 2011 -- a 32 percent jump from the same period in 2010, he said.

“We needed to address this problem and we couldn't attack the problem as efficiently as years past,” he told msnbc.com.

Officers had been handling the growing number of complaints and crimes in the rural county by working overtime, he said. But that had to come to an end, forcing the department -- a team of 41 patrol officers and 20 detectives -- to come up with a creative solution in crime prevention, he said.

Residents who live across the street from one sign shared their mixed feelings over the latest tactics with The Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo., which first reported this story. “If the burglar sees the sign, maybe they will stay away,” Karen Nanninga told the News-Leader.

“It may be a bit overblown,” John Farmer de la Torre, another neighbor, said. “When something really goes bad, what’s gonna happen?”

Arnott said it will take time to see whether the latest crime-fighting tool is working for his force that patrols 670 miles in the rural Missouri county. One law enforcement official said he believes the signs have been successful.

“It’s had an impact,” Capt. David Johnson told The Springfield News-Leader. “We’ve had a number of people call in to report suspicious vehicles. We’ve received some tips and leads from citizens.”

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