Automobile break-ins are up by 20 percent this year, prompting officers to go door-to-door in some hard-hit neighborhoods to spread safety tips.
Since July, investigators have charged 12 people with multiple instances of theft from vehicles. One person, whose name has not been released, is a suspect in at least 30 cases, and police continue to connect him to more cases, according to Richmond County Sheriff’s Lt. Lewis Blanchard.
On Thursday, employees from all divisions of the sheriff’s office went to the nearly 200 apartments at Lenox Place on the 3200 block of Wrightsboro Road, talking to residents and putting prevention brochures in doors and on windshields.
“It’s a two-fold thing,” Lt. Randy Prickett said of the event, which focused on two subjects that have caused concern.
That area of Wrightsboro Road has experienced several automobile break-ins and pedestrian fatalities in the last few years, Prickett said.
“They were very appreciative,” he added. “Working together is what it’s all about.”
Break-ins have been scattered across the county, but police are seeing the most cases generated downtown near Ellis Street, around some West Wheeler Parkway neighborhoods and also the Georgian Place Apartments off Wrightsboro Road.
According to Lt. Jimmy Young, this year’s total of 1,297 auto break-ins through July is nearly 300 more than the same period last year, which illustrates a problem to investigators. However, the number is still fewer than the 1,758 cases through July in 2011.
Investigators said they hope media blitzes, flyers and meetings with neighborhood associations will make people aware of the problem.
But summer is always the worst.
Blanchard said that most cases can be prevented just by locking the doors.
“When they have to break a window, they draw attention to themselves,” Blanchard said. “Breaking a window is not the method of choice.”
In interviews with suspects, investigators find that thieves are generally looking for a “grab and go.” They target items that can easily be carried, are left in plain sight, and even cases where there appears to be something of value hidden.
Investigators see lots of cases where people will hide purses or electronics with a blanket or coat, but a jacket on the seat signals a prize underneath to thieves.
“It’s never the victim’s fault, but don’t set yourself up to be a victim either,” Blanchard said.
A locked vehicle won’t be a deterrent in all cases, but most thieves told police they want to hit as many vehicles in a neighborhood or parking lot as they can at once.