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Georgetown University police say man caught trying to break into student homes

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A man who police say was spotted turning doorknobs on off-campus townhouses occupied by Georgetown University students has been arrested amid a stepped-up campaign against a spate of burglaries.

The suspect, James McFerguson, 46, of Northwest Washington, was on probation for attempted burglary and was wearing a GPS monitoring ankle bracelet when taken into custody Wednesday afternoon, according to Georgetown University Police Chief Jay Gruber.

Court records show McFerguson is on supervised release until January 2015. He was released from prison in May 2012 after serving 22 months.

McFerguson has been charged with attempted unlawful entry and possession of burglary tools. Gruber said McFerguson had a knife, a bolt cutter and a small crowbar in his backpack when he was detained by undercover officers on Prospect Street at the university’s front gates.

Gruber said McFerguson does not match the description of a person being sought in a series of burglaries and attempted break-ins at campus residence halls and other buildings since January in which laptops, smartphones, textbooks and watches have been stolen.

Gruber said police have surveillance pictures and video of the man believed to be responsible for those break-ins, and they think the same person has hit buildings at other universities around the District, including George Washington, Gallaudet and American.

The chief said that both the Georgetown campus and off-campus area have been hit by burglaries recently. He had a new undercover squad, called the Community Action Team, keeping watch Wednesday on streets populated by students. Shortly before 2 p.m, Gruber said officers saw a man trying to find unlocked doors along Prospect Street, which is near the Potomac River and is lined with private townhouses occupied by students.

Gruber said his officers stopped the man, who was using a bicycle to get around.

The other break-ins have hit residence halls and a lab building on the Northwest Washington campus. The most recent occurred Feb. 8 at Regents Hall when someone stole a computer and phone from an unlocked office, according to a campus crime alert. The building is used by the biology, physics and chemistry departments.

Other buildings, mostly residence halls, were targeted Feb. 4, Jan. 29 and Jan. 28. In each case, police said entry was gained through unlocked doors. Gruber said the pattern is similar at the other universities. The burglar’s “niche is college campuses,” he said.

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