Car burglaries are on the rise in Collier County, but the statistic that is most surprising is how easy many vehicle owners are making it for the culprits.
You see, in the past two years, the vehicles in an average of 72 percent of the “break-ins” reported to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, were — yep, you guessed it — unlocked.
In the cover of darkness, thieves entered the vehicles and stole everything from car radios, cell phones, iPods and purses from inside of parked cars throughout Collier County.
In reviewing the county’s crime statistics, Michelle Batten, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, noted rates of crime in vehicle break-ins have been on the rise in the last two years.
“In 2009, we had 972 vehicles burglarized, and of that number, 665 were reported to be unlocked. In 2010, there were 1,048 vehicle break-ins and 791 happened to vehicles that were unlocked,” said Batten.
So the Sheriff’s Office developed “You Hold the Key” campaign to remind everyone that a simple turn of a key can keep opportunistic criminals out of cars, homes and unlocked storage areas.
“We’re driving home the message that the community has to do their part to prevent vehicle burglaries,” said Rebecca Gonzalez, a sergeant with the Crime Prevention Bureau. “We interview criminals and they say it is called ‘car hopping.’ They go and try handles on car doors. They’ll steal the iPod and they’ll steal everything that is left in plain sight inside the car. If a criminal can sell it, they’ll steal it. Our passion for this is to change people’s habits as (locking doors) can be as easy as clicking a seat belt.”
Sgt. Anthony Rispoli, a patrol supervisor with Florida Gulf Coast University Police Department, resonates Gonzalez’s concerns. Rispoli stated there was an increase of burglaries in unlocked vehicles this past semester on campus.
“We had a rash of burglaries on campus, and 90 percent of the vehicles were left open. They stole GPS’s, iPods, small electronics, and some people left their laptops behind in cars. The majority happened in student housing parking lots,” Rispoli said.
“We have Operation I.D. here, and we encourage the freshmen and people to come in and inscribe their identification of driver’s license number on their valuables,” he said. “We provide a form to them, and they can record the identifying numbers of their property for their own personal files. Then when they go to the pawn shop, they can use the information form to get the item back.”
Proactive community efforts are also essential to preventing crimes of opportunity such as car burglaries.
Julian Garcia, executive director of the University Area Community Development Corporation in partnership with the attorney general of Florida, recently offered a seminar to area residents, helping them gain insight into how to prevent crimes in their neighborhoods.
The anti-crime symposium was held Feb. 4 in Fort Myers, and Garcia said it is “a grassroots effort to build community cohesion and community policing in high crime neighborhoods. Community members can really get involved, and we have a partnership through Jim Walters Partnership Center at University of South Florida to work together to develop community leaders to work within their communities to prevent crime.”
The symposium in Fort Myers was targeted to community members, local, and state leaders, policy makers, law enforcement members, affordable housing advocates, social service providers, code enforcement, and urban planners in order to reduce crimes in local neighborhoods.
To learn more about the “You Hold the Key” campaign in Collier County go to www.colliersheriff.org.