A low-priority crime?

Not only was her tanning salon broken into — Ivy Bovey is upset because the Italian restaurant next door was too. And on Saturday, the hair salon on the other side of her. All this in two weeks, she said, and she can barely get investigating officers on the phone or to come out to the shopping center.

“They have done everything but come in and shoot us,” Bovey said. “We need help from the community because the police are too busy.”

In the last two weeks, three window doors have been busted out in the Staples Mill Plaza and several doors in the rear have had their knobs ripped off, she said.

The latest break-in occurred early Tuesday morning at the Hair Studio owned by Margaret Hudson. The front door window was broken. The criminals stole a camcorder, digital camera and cash out of the cash register after ripping it open. They left her 83 cents in change.

Bovey had her Island Tan shop broken into Nov. 20, and her door was tried again Saturday, she said.

Armetta’s Restaurant was broken into Nov. 20, she said.

“It just doesn’t stop with this,” Bovey said, pointing to marks on the door frames of several adjacent businesses. “They leave their mark before they hit … Everybody’s door is gouged.”

Bovey’s complaints come while the county continues to add manpower to the police ranks while also deal with a political fight between the 420-man police department and 70-man sheriff’s office.

Earlier this year, the county board was told Prince William needed 120 new police officers to bring it up to the national average for staffing. In recent years the county has added 20 officers a year, and police received that amount this year, while six sheriff’s deputy positions were also added.

After a drawn-out fight, the two departments last year agreed to a memorandum of understanding on resources and that the police department is the principal law enforcement agency for the county.

But that fight is not on the mind of business owners faced with doors of broken glass and bent metal.

“We don’t feel like calling them anymore because they are so slow,” Hudson said. When she called about noise from a business for disturbing the peace, the police officer instead of going to the offending store went into the Chinese restaurant, leading Hudson to think something was happening there. “I called him — he was supposed to come here,” Hudson said. “The idiot, he orders Chinese food first.”

She stopped him in the parking lot when he started to leave. The officer told her, “Well, I don’t see anything, maam.” People had been beating on the walls, she said.

When Bovey’s rear door was pried, the officer had to leave for a reported fight and then returned. Bovey said she had waited for two hours so she replaced the knob before he came back. She did not want to be at her store all night. The officer had wanted to check the door for prints before it was fixed.

“Officers have to prioritize the calls,” said Prince William police spokesman Dennis Mangan. “If there is a fight with weapons down the street, they have to go to that first.” Businesses should feel free to call police anytime, he said.

Bovey said it cost her $445 to replace the front door window on short notice, and $150 for a new rear door knob.

Police tell her a security camera would help them with leads, but she said she can’t afford one. She is getting a security system put in like others, but it still takes police 12 minutes to respond. The criminals seem to have scanners, she said. Hudson was going to put a security system in last week but with Thanksgiving, didn’t get around to it.

Alarms can be effective in catching burglars, Mangan said.

An example occurred after 3 a.m. Monday morning when officers responded to an alarm at the El Paso restaurant at 30130 Golansky Blvd. in Woodbridge. A window was found broken, and a quick search led to the arrest of two men at a pay phone: Nicholas Gonzelez, 29, of no fixed address, and Felipe Hernandez, 30, of no fixed address.

“We do business checks at night, but to cover every shopping center, they cannot sit in one center,” Mangan said. “They can’t be everywhere.”

A Chinese restaurant on U.S. 1 in Woodbridge had its back door pried off two nights in a row last month, he said. The River Oaks Commercial Shopping Center north of Cherry Hill has had a series of break-ins, the most recent last Wednesday when $1,000 in cash, a VCR and nail polishes were stolen from A++ Nails, he said.

Bovey said she understands the police are busy, but that isn’t comforting. A neighborhood is just 50 yards behind the shopping center, she said. “Let me show you who’s probably going to be next,” she said, showing another business.

In the next three years, county police want to reduce the crime rate to less than 27 crimes per 1,000 residents, compared to the 2001 crime rate of 27.7 per 1,000.

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