There was standing room only in the council chambers of Wagener Town Hall on Monday night, as dozens crowded the room in the aftermath of a string of burglaries to find out what they can do to keep their homes safe and help local law enforcement in the same effort.


The town has been shaken in recent weeks by a rash of garage and shed break-ins – about two per week.


Paul Chandler, 46, of Holley Street, was detained for second-degree burglary on Jan. 16 after he was caught allegedly breaking into a person’s shed. Authorities believe Chandler was responsible for “a significant number” of the burglaries.


“I’m aware of your concerns. The past month has been, at the least, difficult for me,” Mayor Mike Miller said Monday. “Some folks lost a lot. Some lost a little. Some only had their lock and door torn up, but everybody was robbed of their security.”


The Rev. Philip Turner, pastor of First Baptist Church of Wagener, was the victim of a burglary several months ago.


“There’s only so much that our local law enforcement can do. To a frustrating extent, their hands are tied,” he said. “I think this community is full of good people, and this community is full of good people who may have done nothing because we think someone else will do it. Someone else might step up.”


The Town Council meeting featured presentations by Wagener police chief Jeff Key and Sgt. Jason Feemster of the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.


“The biggest thing is, we need your help,” Key said. “We can only put so many men and women out on the street. If I have all of you out on the street with us, the only action I need you to take is using the phone. Dial 911.”


Key encouraged residents to call police if something doesn’t look or feel right, and to not be afraid to “bother” them.


“Bother us; we don’t mind,” he said. “That’s what we’re paid for. I’d rather come check out that strange noise than for something to happen to you, or somebody’s place get broken into.”


Key provided several suggestions to residents for enhancing security at their homes, including locking doors, installing motion-activated lights and installing an alarm system, if it’s feasible.


During the meeting, Miller and police officers distributed about 30 motion-activated security alarm devices to every family present.


“It doesn’t call anyone, but it may scare (burglars) off, and it may wake you up,” Miller said while passing out the devices. “I called the manufacturer and told them, ‘We’re having a meeting, a lot of people are coming. What can you do for us?’ They gave me a significant cut on this one. They treated us very well.”


Key also emphasized the importance of recording serial numbers for purchased items, from iPods to televisions to chainsaws.


“If we come across things that we think are stolen and there are no distinguishing marks on them and no serial numbers, we can’t return them because we have no way to prove who they belong to,” Key said, adding that residents can also etch their initials or a distinguishing mark into the item.


One man asked the officers about using deadly force against a burglar.


“If you catch someone in your house or shed, you call 911,” he said. “He’s gonna leave before your people can get there. Do I have a right to stop him?”


Feemster explained that South Carolina abides by the “Castle Doctrine” law that designates a person’s home as their castle.


“That means you have a right to defend your property, defend your family and your stuff,” Feemster said. “As far as, if you have a right to detain that person, I would just say this: I don’t go looking for a fight. If my family is not threatened, I’m not being threatened, I’m going to do my best to be a good witness until law enforcement can get there. I’m not going to challenge that person.”


Feemster also encouraged residents to contact him or Key about setting up community watch groups in the town of Wagener and the surrounding area.


Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.