Lock the doors and keep your cell phone with you. Car break-ins have increased across Richmond County, and police want to make sure people are doing their best to protect their belongings.
There were about 350 car break-ins in Richmond County last month - 150 more than in January 2006.
"With all the apartment buildings and shopping centers, it's a virtual buffet of cars out there," said Richmond County sheriff's Sgt. Ken Eskew. "It happens all the time."
Investigators said the number of car break-ins ebbs and flows throughout the year, depending on a number of factors. Holidays can contribute to them, as can weather. But in many cases it's simply the luck of the draw.
"It really seems to come and go in spurts," said Lt. Tony Walden, who oversees the property-crimes division of the sheriff's office. He said investigators look for hot spots, or areas where several break-ins occur over time, and then "attack" it vigorously through patrols and investigations.
That is the case with the Family Y's Wheeler Road location, where Lt. Walden has assigned two investigators to backtrack through all the car break-ins of the past three months and look for leads that might have been missed on the first go-round.
Still, investigators admit it's often difficult to acquire evidence. Sgt. Eskew said the plastic, vinyl and cloth in modern cars make it difficult to lift usable fingerprints. And with few investigators available to respond to the hundreds of reported break-ins the department receives in a year, most of the responsibility for finding evidence falls on the deputy who responds, Lt. Walden said.
The number of break-ins is disappointing but not unexpected, said Sgt. Eskew.
"You might as well just leave it unlocked and put a sign there - valuables, please take," he said. " If you leave all these things in plain view, why are you shocked when they're not there? I say if you leave them in plain view, you should be shocked that they're still there when you get back."
People should also record the serial numbers of electronics and other valuables in a notebook so that investigators can track them if they are stolen, Sgt. Eskew said.
Investigators also say not to disturb the crime scene before a deputy investigates.
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Investigators say the simplest way to prevent a car break-in is to not leave valuable items, such as money or cell phones, where thieves can see them. If your car is broken into, investigators say to:
- Avoid touching or moving anything. The car is a crime scene, and you could disturb evidence that may help catch the thief.
- If your credit cards or cell phone is stolen, cancel the account immediately and monitor billing statements for fraudulent charges. Investigators may be able to track the charge back to the thief.
- Keep a notebook with serial numbers of your valuables. That may help if the item is found or pawned.
Sources: Lt. Tony Walden, Sgt. Ken Eskew, Richmond County Sheriff's Office
RICHMOND COUNTY CAR BREAK-INS
2,900: Total in 2006
380: Total from Jan. 1 through Wednesday
350: Total in January
200: Total in January 2006
* All numbers are approximate Source: Investigator Keith McGarity, Richmond County Sheriff's Office