See someone going car to car?
The Collier Sheriff’s Office encourages vigilance, and asks people to call 252-9300 to report suspicious behavior such as someone pulling on different car door handles. :
BONITA SPRINGS — In the wake of recent sporadic thefts from cars and a purse-snatching in parking lots opposite local LA Fitness gyms, managements of these and other gyms are issuing renewed warnings to motorists to lock their vehicles.
The latest burglaries happened May 25 at LA Fitness at the Gulf Coast Town Center, where items such as an iPhone, cash and a laptop were taken.
Reports didn’t specify whether the cars were locked or unlocked, but Nina Fornos of LA Fitness in the center said trust is likely the big problem.
“Some people just don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said.
Fornos, who is operations manager of the gym, said that to promote caution and security, signs on the gym doors encourage people to lock their cars.
She said a mobile security unit patrols the center, but obviously can’t be in all places at one time.
At Bonita Springs LA Fitness center — scene of an early May purse-snatching — fixed security cameras aren’t evident, but regular member Lynne Powers of Naples said she’s always fastidious about locking her vehicle.
“That’s partly because I’m originally from Detroit,” she said.
More safety tips
Additional safety tips from the Sheriff’s Office include understanding that putting a purse or wallet behind the front seat or in the console isn’t hiding it from thieves, that car alarms should be set, and that the constant rule of thumb “Lock it up and take it with you”
Powers said there’s no reason to be paranoid about crime here, but that locking a vehicle is “simply a smart thing to do.”
She said she remembers warnings issued by the gym about locking cars, dating back to last fall.
Naples Fitness Club relies on a battery of perimeter spotlights to deter parking lot crime, manager Tracey Cannan said.
The same is true for Marco Fitness Club, which has a standalone building in the island’s industrial section.
Regular member Malki Shabtai said he makes a point of locking his car no matter where he parks.
“I even lock up at the (Publix) shopping center,” he said, “and I never leave my wallet or documents in my car.”
Whether they’re the trusting kind or just plain irresponsible, motorists who don’t lock their cars in parking lots are well-loved by criminals looking for easy pickings.
And, more often than not, those pickings — purses, laptop computers, GPS devices, valuables — are displayed temptingly on car seats.
All that’s missing is a gilded invitation saying “Help Yourself.”
The problem has a simple solution, but according to area law enforcement personnel, it is made more complicated by motorists’ complacency.
On the prowl are the regular career criminals, but another group comprises people who wouldn’t ordinarily break into cars unless prompted by the sight of tempting goodies in unlocked cars.
“These are the kinds of people involved in crimes of opportunity,” said Stacey Payne, community relations manager with Lee County Sheriff’s Office. “They may not be criminally minded, such as a bunch of kids hanging out after school and seeing an iPod in an unlocked car — so they just reach in and pick it up.”
On the other hand, people actually looking for stuff make sweeps along lines of cars, flipping door handles until one opens and then pouncing,” Payne said.
“If people would just lock their car doors ....” she mused.
Her colleague at the Sheriff’s Office, John Sheehan, referred to recent car break-ins outside LA Fitness, but said they’re not limited to those establishments.
“Parking lots, grocery stores, sporting events, private communities ... it can happen anywhere,” Sheehan said, echoing the mantra of hiding valuables and locking vehicles.
Marco Island, described by police Capt. Dave Baer as one of the safest towns in Florida, isn’t immune to car break-ins.
In the past, Baer said, there have been incidents of organized groups “going through” parking lots such as at the island’s South Beach, but opportunists also feature in the equation.
“If you don’t showcase valuables, that’s a significant step in the right direction,” Baer said. “Most of the time, historically speaking, thefts on Marco have been from unlocked cars.”
Baer said there are no defined “hot spots” on the island for thefts or break-ins, but that events with large numbers of cars in one place previously have been targeted.
An important aspect, too, Baer said, is that residential neighborhoods are no guarantee of immunity from light-fingered criminals.
“People think their cars are safer in their driveways than at gymnasiums, but statistically that is not true,” he said.
A hands-on example, he said, was when he recently spotted keys in a new Camaro, and found the owner inside a restaurant.
“She told me she always leaves the keys in the car,” Baer said. “That’s simply inviting and facilitating the professional or the opportunist.”
Consequences of thievery from cars are charges of grand theft for amounts more than $300, said Kristi Lester of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
“Anyone charged with breaking into a vehicle will usually face an additional charge of burglary of a conveyance. This is also a felony,” Lester said.
The Sheriff’s Office also encourages vigilance, and asks people to call 252-9300 to report suspicious behavior such as someone pulling on different car door handles.
Additional safety tips from the Sheriff’s Office include understanding that putting a purse or wallet behind the front seat or in the console isn’t hiding it from thieves, that car alarms should be set, and that the constant rule of thumb “Lock it up and take it with you” should be remembered.