- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Police are looking into a string of break-ins at South Bend-area churches over the past two months.

At least 17 burglaries or attempted break-ins have been reported at church properties in South Bend and unincorporated St. Joseph County since the beginning of September, the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1Sctdkv ) reports. Items stolen from churches, sheds and garages include cash, computers and lawn equipment.

South Bend police Capt. Robert Hammer says there aren’t obvious clues linking the burglaries, aside from the targets and items taken. In most of the cases, landscaping equipment was stolen.

St. Joseph County police Assistant Chief Bill Thompson said it appears likely some of the burglaries were committed by the same person or group.

“It’s a little rare to have this number of churches targeted in that amount of time, but I think it speaks to the fact that people are looking for targets of opportunity,” Thompson said.

The Rev. Vickie Van Nevel, pastor of Northwest United Methodist Church, said members were puzzled after someone tried to steal a lawn tractor worth about $10,000 from a shed in October.

“I suppose we’re kind of an easy mark,” Van Nevel said. “We have certain hours of operation, and otherwise nobody’s around.”

The methods of the break-ins have varied, with garage door panels being pried open and kicked in, or thieves going through doors left unlocked or ajar. Someone climbed through a window in one case, while in another a two-by-four board was used to push open a shed.

Wesley Bullard, a pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, said the church’s garage was broken into and an air compressor worth $300 to $400 was stolen.

“We pray for the person who did this, of course,” Bullard said. “To be honest, we just see this as part of life and put up a new door and try our best to make our property secure.”

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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