Car Burglaries on the Rise

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Morgan Hill Police will launch task force to determine best
course of action to combat the threat
Police hope to slam the door on the rapidly rising number of car burglaries, police officials say.

Weekend nights are particularly bad. Recently, nine vehicles were broken into in the carport area of the Cochrane Village Apartments parking lot on Butterfield Boulevard, but it’s not the only case of multiple-vehicle burglaries in a single day.

“It’s definitely on the upswing,” MHPD Cmdr. Terrie Booten said Monday. “We see it happening in pockets; in other words, one night they might hit the Jackson Heights area, on Saturday night, Sunday morning, it was the Cochrane Village Apartments. These are random hits in different pockets throughout the city.”

Calling the thefts “crimes of opportunity,” police plan to launch a task force to determine the best course of action to combat the threat. Last year, burglaries rose 36 percent over 2004, with 244 including residential and commercial. Auto burglaries in particular are on the rise during the new year as well, Booten said.

The crimes may be committed by different people, groups of people or people working alone, she added.

“It can be tied to gang activity, but it is by no means affiliated with one gang or another,” she said. “It is a crime of opportunity committed by all walks of life. You have people who are desperate for money, people who are desperate for drugs. This is a quick turn-around kind of crime.”

Some of the criminals involved in the rash of auto burglaries may be local, Booten said, but others could be from anywhere, taking a “drive-through” approach to the crime. They may get off U.S. 101 in Morgan Hill and hit a bunch of vehicles in a parking lot not far from the highway, such as the apartments or one of the shopping centers, then get back on the highway and leave town.

To thwart any local thieves, Booten said, the new task force will focus on the criminal history of some suspects.

“We’re going to be looking at parolees or folks that have been arrested for this crime in the past,” she said. “Have they done their time and been released in our area, those kinds of situations.”

Last month, the Morgan Hill Police Department issued a report showing the city has the second highest ratio of parolees in the county with 5.17 per 1,000 residents. Gilroy led the county with 7.85 parolees per 1,000 residents.

The department has had some measure of success in the past when tracking down criminals suspected of burglarizing vehicles.

“At various times, we have been able to catch those responsible,” she said. “There was a Hollister connection in one situation, but not all these crimes are being caused by outsiders.”

Though the items stolen – speakers, stereos, loose change, purses, cell phones, laptop computers – can be sold quickly, Booten said the nearest pawn shop is in Gilroy. And though the department is aware there are “fences” operating, they don’t have positive identification.

“We know they are there, although we haven’t specifically identified one person or group of people,” she said.

While the department will focus its task force on the problem, there are some precautions residents can take to make it hard for criminals to break into their vehicles.

“Most of these are common sense, such as parking in a well-lit area, if possible, removing all valuables, at least visually and making sure the vehicle is secured,” Booten said. “Something else that will help deter is a car alarm. If they break a window and an alarm goes off, they’re out of there. If you’re purchasing a new vehicle or a new stereo for the vehicle, you might consider a stereo with the removable faceplate that renders the stereo useless. Something else that can help, and it just takes a couple of seconds to take these steps, is to write down the serial number and make and model number of your vehicle’s stereo. Those are key pieces of information for us if we are fortunate enough to locate these items if they are stolen.”

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