The arrests were made early Sunday morning as the result of a joint investigation by police departments from both counties, said Sgt. Bruce Morningstar of the Fruitport Township Police Department.
Anthony Franklin, 24; and Tamero Morris, 35, both pleaded not guilty to three charges each of home invasion in Fruitport Township when arraigned by video Tuesday in Muskegon County District Court, said Brett Gardener, chief assistant prosecuting attorney.
Both have extensive criminal records, mostly in theft-related crime, Gardener said. Bond was set at $150,000 for Franklin and $100,000 for Morris. A future court date was not set.
Morningstar said police from Fruitport, Norton Shores, Muskegon Heights and Spring Lake were involved in the investigation. It included 11 home invasions in Fruitport Township alone between May 29 and June 21.
The stolen items included electronics, computer equipment, multiple firearms, cash and other valuables, Morningstar said.
The most recent incidents in Fruitport Township included three reported within a 30-minute period on June 21. Two of those were in the area of East Pontaluna Road near Quarterline Road during the day, Morningstar said. The third was in the 3400 block of Max Paulsen Drive earlier that week.
Previous home invasions had been reported June 15 in the 2500 block of East Hile, June 17 in the 3200 Block of East Mount Garfield and the 4100 block of South Walker; and June 19 in the 2800 block of South Quarterline and the 2600 block of East Broadway.
Most of the cases involved residences being entered while nobody was home, Morningstar said.
Lt. Mark Bennett of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said the thieves target homes in more sparsely populated areas with large lots and where the house is not readily visible from the road.
Bennett said his department has recorded nearly 430 break-ins over the past six months in Ottawa County, with about half of the homes being entered through the garage.
“It does seem to be a few different groups,” Bennett said.
The crime wave has slowed down considerably since the arrest of a Grand Rapids man a couple of months ago, Bennett said. However, the man was released from jail on Feb. 16 and the increase in home invasions started the first week of March.
“We had about 60 on the east side of the county in two and a half months,” Bennett said.
The bounty from his last five to six break-ins was still in the man’s possession, Bennett added. “We have (recovered) everything from a 60-inch TV to jewelry and cigar humidors,” he said.
The normal amount of recovered stolen items is about 25 percent, Bennett added.
When Grand Rapids police did a search warrant on Joseph John Hudson, “they found some of our stuff,” Bennett said.
Bennett said home invasions in Ottawa County are about 30 percent higher than a year ago. But it’s not so much the fault of the economy as it is substance abuse, he said.
“Most of these offenders have significant criminal history,” Bennett said. “They need money to support their substance abuse habit.”
The most common items taken lately are jewelry — because gold prices continue to be high — and electronics.
“The most concerning thing to us as a law enforcement agency is firearms,” Bennett said. “Usually, they are traded on the street during some type of drug transaction. ... Firearms can’t be sold, because the people dealing with the guns are mostly felons."
Guns stolen from Felix’s Marina in Robinson Township during the past few years have turned up in either Saginaw or Detroit, Bennett said.
Not many guns are taken from private residences, police say. But if people have them, Bennett said his best advice is to secure them properly and record serial numbers.
People in sparsely populated areas should be leery of people coming to their door, Bennett said.
The most common method is a crook comes to your door with a pad of paper in his hand and asks if you subscribe to water treatment services, then offers to test your water. If someone answers the door and says no, the perpetrator will go away, Bennett said. If nobody answers the door, the crook will break into the home.
Another method is when someone stops by and asks for directions. If you are home, they go away.
In the case of the Grand Rapids suspect, witnesses who called just before his arrest said he had no uniform, business identification or markings on his car.
One of the incidents possibly connected to him was the break-in of St. Joseph’s Church in Ottawa County's Wright Township, Bennett said. The suspect got into the safe and took some loose cash and checks — most of which have been recovered, he said.
What you can do:
— Be vigilant.
— Be suspicious of people soliciting. Most communities require vendors to be registered in their community. Ask for proof. Don’t let people in to use your phone or bathroom. They might be casing your house.
— Call 911 to report anyone suspicious in the area. Note a description of the person and what they are doing that makes you suspicious of them.
— Secure your home. Install deadbolts to your doors, and make sure all windows are closed and locked. Trim the bushes around your home to eliminate an area where a suspect could hide. Install motion lights around your home.
— Lt. Mark Bennett said a dog is also a good deterrent. “If they knock and hear a dog, it’s likely they’ll leave,” he said.