String of vehicle break-ins highlights need for locked doors
by Rachael Brown
rbrown@annistonstar.com
Aug 21, 2013 | 3121 views |  0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A row of cars lines Noble Street in downtown Anniston Wednesday. Law enforcement officials say residents can prevent many vehicle break-ins simply by locking their doors. Photo by Bill Wilson.
A row of cars lines Noble Street in downtown Anniston Wednesday. Law enforcement officials say residents can prevent many vehicle break-ins simply by locking their doors. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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More than 30 vehicles have been reported broken into in Anniston since the beginning of August, and a majority of the thefts may have been prevented simply by locking the car.

Suspects who want to steal valuables from a car will walk through a neighborhood checking all the cars’ door handles to see if they’re unlocked, according to Anniston police Sgt. Chris Sparks. A majority of the thefts occurred between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., Sparks said.

Two men were charged, one Friday and one on Tuesday, with breaking into 16 cars in Saks and Golden Springs. However, police are still searching for more suspects and don’t believe all the break-ins are related, Sparks said.

The sergeant said it’s important for people to lock their cars. He recommended drivers leave their cars in well-lit areas and store them in secured spaces such as a garage at night, if possible.

Sparks cautioned against leaving valuables visible in cars and said that often thefts are prompted because a purse or wallet can be seen sitting inside the vehicle.

Sheriff Larry Amerson said he’s received several reports recently of unlocked cars that were broken into in Wellington. Amerson said this type of crime is one of the most preventable.

“Folks leave the most amazing things in their car, unlocked, at night. They make themselves easy victims,” Amerson said.

Recently police have had reports from breaking-and-entering victims in which numerous purses and wallets were taken. Stereo equipment, electronics and firearms are also targeted, according to police reports.

Amerson said it’s often difficult to recover many of the items taken from vehicles because people rarely keep a log of the serial numbers.

The sheriff said laptops and GPS devices are difficult to identify if the victim does not have the serial number.

“They get sold quickly and they’re gone,” Amerson said.

If the entire car is stolen, which often happens if the keys are left inside and the door is unlocked, it can be even more difficult to recover.

Alabama is ranked as one of the lowest states for stolen-vehicle recovery, with a 28 percent recovery rate, according to a study released earlier this month by Progressive Insurance.

In 2012, 71 vehicles were reported stolen to Anniston police, according to a report from the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. Those 71 thefts were the highest number reported by any city in Calhoun County. Car thefts statewide decreased by 10 percent, according to that same report. There were 206 cars reported stolen in Calhoun County in 2011. In 2012, 156 cars were stolen, according to the ACJIC report. Police solved only 22 percent of the car thefts reported statewide in 2012, the ACJIC noted.

Sparks said he believes many cars aren’t recovered in Alabama because it’s easy to steal a car from a city and drive it to a rural area where it can be taken apart and scrapped.

Amerson agreed that many stolen vehicles are never recovered because they’re torn apart and sold.

“Those cases are hard to solve and easy to do,” Amerson said.

The sheriff said cars are also stolen if they’re left abandoned on a highway. Amerson said he hadn’t heard of that happening in Calhoun County, but several cars were stolen in Birmingham after they were left on the roadside.

“If you were to break down on the highway you want to make arrangements to get your car off the road as quickly as possible,” he said.

Anniston police have seen an increase in cars that were stolen and later discovered burned. Sparks said many suspects burn the vehicle in an attempt to destroy evidence. In a few cases, he said, that type of theft has traced back to insurance fraud or an owner defaulting on a loan.

“Not every instance of vehicle theft is a true theft,” Sparks said.

Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.

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