By Michael Jacobs

Automobile break-ins in Buckhead were down 33 percent through May compared with the first five months of 2008.

That improvement came amid a deep recession, increasing the economic pressures on people to turn to crime, and despite Atlanta’s furloughs of police officers, decreasing the manpower available to fight crime.

Neighborhood Planning Unit A (NPU-A) heard the news during its monthly meeting June 2 from Lt. Mark Cotter and one of the sergeants from the discretionary unit he commands, H. Hardy. The officers made the same report to other NPU boards that night.

Included in their report was the news that crime overall in police Zone 2, which covers Buckhead, is down 12 percent this year, and even though burglaries are on the rise, they are still less common in Buckhead than in any other part of Atlanta.

The number of vehicle break-ins in Zone 2 dropped by 344, from 1,053 to 709. Cotter gave much of the credit to his unit’s sergeants, Hardy and R. Bender.

“Their people have been really doing an outstanding job being visible in these apartment complexes and these parking lots” where break-ins were common, Cotter said. The officers are making arrests and responding quickly to calls, he said.

He cited one case in May in which Hardy’s team arrested a man who was walking around the parking garage and peering into cars outside Wal-Mart on Howell Mill Road at I-75. The man had 20 other drivers’ licenses, stolen bank account numbers and mail, and a laptop computer swiped in Sandy Springs.

A couple of times a month, police in Buckhead deploy bait cars with GPS units and laptop computers in plain view. Cotter said two bait-car details in May yielded 12 arrests, although none for vehicle break-ins.

Hardy said GPS units remain the top target of thieves who break into cars.

“All they need is a spark plug in their pocket. All you have to do is touch that window with that spark plug and it’s going to shatter,” the sergeant said.

“Having a spark plug on you, in and of itself, is not illegal,” Cotter said. “But taking other factors, such as calls in the community, where is he when he had the spark plug on him — if he’s on the side of the house or beside a car and people have actually seen him looking in — that’s prowling.”