CLEARWATER — Police are asking the public to help identify three people they believe are responsible for a string of vehicle burglaries over the last two weeks.
Most have occurred late at night or in the early morning hours. In one case, a convertible top was cut so the suspects could get into the car, but in 20 other cases, the victims had left their vehicles unlocked, police said.
"A lot of times, these subjects will just go around to see if the vehicle is unlocked. If it's unlocked, they'll go in, rummage around and see what's inside," said Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts.
The technique — checking door handles until thieves find one unlocked — is called "car hopping," Watts said.
The thieves have stolen wallets, purses, money and electronics.
Watts urged residents to remove their valuables from their vehicles and make sure to lock their doors and roll up their windows, especially during the holiday season when people are carrying presents around.
"The targets have been pretty much anywhere, at residences and businesses. Especially at this time of year, we want to remind people to protect your valuables if you want to keep them," Watts said.
Several of the first break-ins were in the North Greenwood area, between North Betty Lane and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, but the most recent incidents have happened in neighborhoods adjacent to Belleair Road.
Burglary detectives released video from a home surveillance camera that shows one man entering the driver's side of a car and another man getting into the passenger seat. The man on the driver's side pops the trunk open and begins looking through it.
The other man approaches a nearby SUV, opens an unlocked door and uses a flashlight to rummage through the center console. Both men then run back to a waiting car and take off. The incident takes less than two minutes.
The waiting car appears to be a late-1990s Buick LaSabre or Pontiac Bonneville.
Police do not believe the December thefts are related to another string of vehicle burglaries reported in October and November. The majority of those cases were smash-and-grab thefts in which the thieves broke out windows to get into the vehicles.
The suspects in those cases, men believed to be 20 to 30 years old, were also driving a different vehicle described as a gray SUV. No arrests have been made in those cases, police said Friday.