SHPD pondering problem of rising break-ins, thefts from cars

Sean C. Morgan

The total number of car prowls reported in October in Sweet Home was nearly one-fifth of the five-year annual average of reported thefts from vehicles.

Sweet Home Police Department received 12 reports of unauthorized entry into motor vehicles and thefts during the past month. The annual average from 2013 to 2017 is 66.4 per year. So far this year, SHPD has had more than 120 UEMV reports.

Of last month’s 12 reports, police arrested two suspects. In October 2017, they arrested one person.

A random survey of SHPD cases over the last five years indicates that at least 95 percent of all thefts from vehicles occur when doors are left unlocked. Based on another randomized survey, the average loss value per case is about $263.

SHPD is focused on finding “solutions and solving problems,” said Police Chief Jeff Lynn, and Sgt. Ryan Cummings is taking point on a program to reduce the number of thefts form vehicles.

A key part of that effort is prevention, which means locking vehicle doors and not leaving valuables visible inside.

“In theory, you should be able to leave everything (out),” Lynn said, but “you can’t.”

Nearly all UEMV reports involve unsecured vehicles with valuables left in the vehicles, often visible through the windows.

Routinely stolen are wallets, large amounts of cash, credit cards and firearms – at least two of those in the past month.

Thursday, police took a report for a firearm stolen from an SUV. The investigation found no sign of forced entry.

The owner had noticed the back window was not latched, and a lock was broken off an ammo box a week earlier. Tools were sitting around the ammo box. On Thursday, the owner noticed that a firearm that had been stored in the ammo box was gone. The owner of the firearm is checking to see if the firearm might have been misplaced.

The owner had initially called police dispatch to report that he could not find the firearm.

The department’s plan involves increasing public awareness, Lynn said. “The No. 1 thing to prevent it: Lock it. When you lock it, don’t leave something valuable in view.”

Making thefts from vehicles difficult is the goal, he said.

“We believe there is between one and three individuals creating all the hate and discontent,” Lynn said, but “it’s extremely hard to find suspects. With these, there’s very little evidence.”

Video surveillance has played a huge role solving several cases, Lynn said, but video is often unreliable for investigations because even when it is available, it’s often low-quality or the thief has a hood up, especially this time of year.

The department is looking at ways to create a registry of surveillance systems, Lynn said. Joining the registry and sharing video footage is optional, but with this information, police could more easily locate potential footage of suspects.

If a surveillance system is likely to have evidence, police can ask the owner to review the footage for suspicious activity.

The department also is focusing patrols on hot spots, Lynn said. Patrols focus on different areas at different times each night. Officers are conducting foot and vehicle patrols or parking with lights off and just watching and listening for a period of time.

Officers also will hand out fliers for those who have left their vehicle in an obviously vulnerable state to remind the owner to take these simple steps to protect their property.

For more more information or to report a crime or suspicious activity, call the Police Department at (541) 367-5181.