A project of anti-theft security upgrades worth $48,000 will not be initiated at a U.S. military housing area in this Norfolk town because of financial constraints, according to an Air Force official.

Last year, residents said that ongoing theft in the neighborhood had become such a problem that many nicknamed the 120-home housing area “Theftford.”

In 2005, RAF Lakenheath officials asked property owners Circle Anglia housing group to install a perimeter fence at the nongated community and replace the 3-foot-high fencing with a higher barrier surrounding many homes.

The housing group declined to finance the project, so base officials requested funds from U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Then the project hit another snag this year when contractor bids were deemed too costly.

“Since the cost of the upgrade project came out well over what we originally anticipated, the original $48,000 was redistributed,” Lt. Col. Brian Murphy, 48th Civil Engineer Squadron commander, wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes in October.

April Waterman, who has lived in Thetford for four months, doesn’t mind keeping the 3-foot fencing around her home but would like to see new locks for the garage doors.

One time when she was locked out of her home, she easily broke back into it with one hard turn of the garage door latch, she said.

“It was locked. It just took a little bit of muscle, but it did come undone. We need new garage door locks,” said Waterman, the spouse of a 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron airman.

As a result of the shoddy locks, residents park their vehicles inches from their garage doors and jam screwdrivers or bolts into the tracks of the doors to prevent them from being swung open by thieves.

Residents reported 14 thefts from homes and vehicles to the 48th Security Forces Squadron from December 2005 to December 2006. There have been only four such incidents from December 2006 to Oct. 26 this year. However, not all thefts are reported, security forces officials have said.

Although theft may be down in numbers, some residents say that the need for security upgrades shouldn’t be ignored as break-ins could always increase again.

“From what I understand, the area has gotten better than it used to be,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Ellingsworth, from the 100th Communications Squadron. “I have a terrible feeling that it could get worse. There’s just a lack of awareness now.”

Ellingsworth, also a four-month resident, has seen and heard about incidents that give the neighborhood a bad reputation. In addition to home and vehicle break-ins, youths — some of them smoking and drinking — can sometimes be seen loitering at the neighborhood playground. One family had its lawnmower stolen from its back yard; another family’s trampoline was taken.

At the very least, Ellingsworth would like to see anti-theft or “no loitering” signs erected in the neighborhood.

For now, Ellingsworth said he walks around the neighborhood on some nights with a flashlight to help clear his mind that thieves aren’t lurking. About a month ago, he said he startled two youths who had just hopped a fence into the housing area. They jumped back out after being spotted.

To add to his family’s peace of mind, he also looks to set up security cameras around his home, he said.

His wife, Heather, said she is tired of the lack of help her family has received from Lakenheath’s housing office, the overseer of the neighborhood.

“I just feel like we’re thrown out here and stuck with no support,” she said.

Housing officials were unavailable to comment on Ellingsworth’s comments last week.

Murphy said there’s talk about standing up a Neighborhood Watch program.

“We are working through the [housing area] mayor’s group to find a volunteer to head the watch,” Murphy said.

Murphy said there are advantages to not having a gated community in a British town.

“The security of our families is very important to us, but building an unguarded fence, isolating ourselves from the community, would not only be expensive, but would give us a false sense of security,” he said.

Learn moreIf residents have questions about security, they can contact the Thetford police at 01842 222605.

To report a crime, contact the Norfolk Constabulary at 0845 456 4567. If a crime is in progress, dial 999. To report a crime to the 48th Security Forces, call 226-2333. For the 100th Security Forces, call 238-2667.

Those interested in the Neighborhood Watch program can contact the RAF Lakenheath housing office at 226-2000.

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