Lewisham police say crooks are getting "quicker" and "cleverer" and that help is needed to catch them after a spate of residential burglaries. SARAH TROTTER investigates.

THERE has been a spike in the number of homes being burgled since November last year with break-ins increasing from 40 to up to 70 per week.

The "clever" criminals no longer smash doors down but often ‘slip’ locks with credit cards to break-in with speed and wear gloves to avoid a fingerprint trail.

Police believe a couple of thieving teams are responsible for the increase in daylight raids across the borough and are urging residents to call immediately if they spot anything suspicious.

A special policing team 'Operation Drummer' has also been set up to tackle the problem with officers patrolling hotspot streets and 13 arrests already made since its launch on January 21.

Head of Lewisham police’s burglary squad Detective Inspector Ian Cameron told News Shopper: "If you do see people knocking on doors, if they look a bit suspicious - people hanging around not doing anything - ring the police straight away instead of leaving it.

"Every December it happens but this year it was a little earlier.

"It is difficult times at the moment. The recession is possibly having a part to play."

He went on to say another factor could be serial offenders being released back into the community for the festive period - with 25 released in Lewisham alone this year.

Crime from residential burglaries had fallen from the previous year and police were hitting a target of keeping numbers to six per day before the sharp rise late last year.

There are 500 officers in Lewisham with 5,000 streets to patrol. Police target hotspot areas but need extra help from the watchful public to fill an "intelligence gap".

Criminals are most often captured through forensic evidence and calls from the public - which help give leads even if there are no immediate arrests.

Hotspot areas:

SE4 - particularly Telegraph Hill - and SE14 have been heavily targeted recently with daylight raids when victims are at work.

- These residential areas without CCTV need neighbours to keep a look-out.

- Those living in blocks of flats are advised to have more than a Yale lock on the main door as these are often 'slipped' with a credit card easily - which does not look suspicious.

Downham - The Asian population, who are often given gold wedding gifts, have been the victims of jewellery burglaries. £40,000 worth of jewellery was recently swiped from one Downham home.

- Police advice: consider a small personal safe as an investment for precious items; take pictures of the jewellery to help trace.

Bizarre burglaries - A £140,000 18th-century violin was nicked from a New Cross flat in November last year.

- A hungry thief stole freezer meats from an unlocked garden shed in Howson Road, Brockley on January 19.

- There were a series of snow burglaries with 11 reported on January 19 and 20 - the majority in the Brockley area with two in New Cross and one in Forest Hill.

Suspicious activity to watch out for and report quickly:

- People hanging around a house, watching it, looking in windows, knocking on doors, looking over fences

- People dumping bags - containing stolen goods - in bushes or bins which they collect later

Items being targeted by burglars: - The majority are smaller electrical items such as iPads and iPhones which are easy to slip into a bag

- Jewellery, gold

- Police advise to log serial numbers of electrical goods so they can track stolen property and find out who is selling them to legitimate dealers.