Increase in thefts from cars raises public awareness

Sunday, August 17, 2008 | 11:31 p.m. CDT

Usually, she parks in the garage. But one night in February, Courtney Charlton parked her car in the driveway at her home on Woods Crossing Drive. She has regretted the decision ever since.

After being sent to retrieve a hat from the 2005 Ford Escape before heading to school the next morning, Charlton’s oldest son came back into the house and said: “Mom, there’s no windows on our car.”

Without inspiring so much as a bark from Ali, the family’s 50-pound boxer, somebody knocked all of the windows out of Charlton’s locked car and stole the purse she’d left on the floorboard. The bag of loot contained house keys, multiple credit cards and corporate cards from work, $300 in cash and a new Nintendo DS recently purchased for her son’s birthday. The car wasn’t equipped with an alarm.

According to an Aug. 13 Columbia Police Department news release, thefts from automobiles have become increasingly common in Columbia, particularly in the northeast part of town. Between July 23 and Aug. 5, there were 61 larcenies from motor vehicles; 17 of these, or 27.88 percent, occurred in the Beat 25 area, which encompasses Clark Lane, Rice Road, Woods Crossing Drive, where Charlton lives, and a number of other surrounding streets.

Residents of the area, such as Karl Skala, Third Ward councilman and former liaison for the Hominy Branch Neighborhood Alliance, are quick to point out that this has been a problem for longer than just the last few weeks.

“There was a spike just recently, but this has been going on for several years on this side of town,” Skala said.

Charlton said it’s just that the problem hasn’t received ample attention until recently.

“The police never did come out for this,” Charlton said. “They just took the report over the phone. I had to go out myself and take pictures for the insurance claim.”

Skala said that police came by his house recently and left a safety checklist of sorts, suggesting additional lighting and trimmed bushes and notifying him of the spike in theft.

“I think we’re finally getting some traction,” Skala said. “This has been happening for quite some time.”

Sgt. Lloyd Simons said that police do not yet have many leads regarding the recent string of thefts from automobiles because most of the reports they received came in well after the fact and contained very little detail. The majority of these crimes occurred at night.

“My guess is that it’s probably one or two individuals checking a number of cars,” Simons said.

Simons said that while nothing is official yet, it appears the increased patrol put in place last week has already made a little bit of a difference. Unfortunately, it also seems that the problem may be becoming more prevalent in southwest Columbia.

“In today’s world, most people are mobile,” he said. “They can go from one neighborhood to another pretty quickly.”

The police department encourages people all over town to lock their cars and keep valuables out of sight.

Simons said that perpetrators will occasionally break a car’s windows to gain entry, but will usually prey on unlocked vehicles.

“Tempting ones have wallets on the dash and valuables in plain view,” Simons said.

Charlton adheres to these guidelines in hopes of avoiding a repeat of that night in February. “I don’t leave anything in my car, and I park in the garage most of the time now.”

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Ray Shapiro August 18, 2008 | 12:39 a.m.

I think it's time to leave my car unlocked with my pitbull sleeping in the back seat. Surprise-surprise-surprise!

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Charles Dudley Jr August 18, 2008 | 7:35 p.m.

Wow I wonder how many Section 8 homes are in that area and how Section 8 contributes to this problem in that area? Statistics show when Section 8 Housing expands in any city the crime rates also spread as well in that city. I wonder if you took a map of crimes reported over Columbia and over layed that with the Section 8 Housing in the Columbia area just how close those two maps would over lay or mimic one another?
I like ray's idea as well........hehehehehehe :)

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