When John Buell got his truck back after it was stolen six years ago, everything was fine other than the scare and the smell of someone’s cigarettes in the cab.
Then two years after that, he saw people late at night going near cars and houses in his Coachman Ridge neighborhood. He called the police, who stopped the group, but they had already stolen a subwoofer out of his unlocked car.
On Monday, Clearwater Police Department officers tested Buell’s car door. It was unlocked. They spoke with him about how 82 percent of vehicle burglaries happen because of an unlocked car and gave him a flyer as part of their “Lock, Take, Secure” initiative. The effort, started about six years ago, urges residents to “lock your car, take your keys, secure your belongings.”
Citywide, burglaries have dropped 34 percent compared to this time last year, going from 679 to 445, said Lt. Michael Walek. Also, this is the first year since 2014 that the number of burglaries has dropped below 647 at the mid-year point, according to records.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for any drop in crime, the visibility of the officers and their education efforts have made a difference, Walek said.
Sgt. Kevin Insco, who heads the burglary unit, said just locking cars and homes and putting away valuables can stop a slew of other issues, like stolen credit card information. If the unit can get people to do those two things, he said, “then maybe we could prevent that snowballing.”
Insco said he and other officers look for a neighborhood at least once a month to canvas based on how much activity there’s been. They may go out more if there’s been a lot of crime, and they go around often in March at Phillies games.
Detective Cathi Long with the unit said when burglaries do happen, their partnership with Ring Inc., the home security company, helps them find video of burglars. She recently used footage to arrest a serial burglar who was stealing expensive patio furniture.
Long spoke with a runner about the importance of keeping her doors locked. By the end of the conversation, Beverly Brown, a Coachman Ridge resident for 37 years, was ready to lend her eye and be a volunteer. She joked that she could be hired for the cost of pancakes twice a month.
As a former healthcare professional, Brown said she's used to being observant and thinks she could be a help. She said the area has a strong neighborhood watch group, but it's important to be familiar with neighbors and which houses are vacant, she said.
“Just be aware, acutely aware, of anything going on in your neighborhood,” she said.
In Coachman Ridge and across the city, police have seen an uptick in work truck burglaries, Insco said.
Service workers going back and forth from their vans or trucks often leave doors unlocked and things like phones or wallets in plain sight, which get taken. Insco said burglars often think of it as an easy get.
Ricky Rogers with Freestyle Pools & Spas, from Oldmar, was working in a backyard Monday morning when police stopped to warn him of the risk of leaving his work truck unlocked.
He already knew. About six months ago, his bookbag was stolen while he was at work. His wallet and keys were inside.
“I just didn’t have the door locked,” he said.
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