Smash and grab auto break-ins on increase in Fayette

There are increasing reports across Fayette County of motorists having their vehicles entered and items stolen. Responding to the entering auto cases, Sheriff Barry Babb cautioned residents to always lock their vehicles and never leave valuables in plain sight.

There have been 114 reported entering auto incidents across Fayette County and its municipalities during the first half of 2014.

The sheriff’s office reported 54 incidents of entering auto in the unincorporated areas of Fayette between Jan. 1 and June 20.

Of the 54 cases, 13 occurred in northwest Fayette, seven occurred in north central Fayette and seven occurred in northeast Fayette while 16 occurred in the southwest portions of the county and 10 in the southeast.

The entering auto cases in the unincorporated areas showed 19 occurring in the evening hours, 18 in the day time hours while the time of day in the remaining cases was unknown.

Fayetteville had 18 entering auto cases for the calendar year as of late June.

Peachtree City had 36 incidents between January and the end of May.

Tyrone had six incidents as of late June.

As those from law enforcement agencies across Fayette County have stressed on numerous occasions, motorists should never leave their vehicles unlocked and should never leave valuables in plain sight.

“The best defense is keeping everything out of sight or locking items in the trunk, center console or glove box. Perpetrators want to grab and go,” said Babb. “They enter your unlocked vehicle in your driveway, use a tool to slip under your door handle in some makes to unlock it, or break your door glass.”

Those who frequent gyms, daycare centers and recreation areas should be particularly aware of the potential for thefts.

“Our repeat locations are daycare centers, parks and recreation centers and gyms,” Babb cautioned. “Why? Because that’s where ladies leave the purse in the car because they don’t need it with them.”

For those intent on theft, the items visible in a vehicle can serve as a magnet.

“Your property is being targeted in your vehicle because that is where we leave items criminals want — like Mp3 players, smart phones, tablets, GPS units and firearms,” said Babb. 

Babb said another issue comes into play when a vehicle theft occurs — the occasional lack of awareness that theft has occurred.

“Some vehicles are ridiculously simple (to enter) with just a screwdriver. It damages your locking system but your keyless remote will still work and we have had victims go days without knowing their firearm was missing from their vehicle and couldn’t tell us when and where it was taken,” Babb said. “We have seen teenagers go throughout their own neighborhood trying door handles during the night and taking from unlocked vehicles. It’s not just someone from outside your neighborhood targeting you.”

Babb said thefts from vehicles is a growing trend across metro Atlanta and is driving up every agency’s theft numbers, including those in Fayette. In some cases it is an individual thief operating alone, while, in other cases, the thefts are the efforts of organized groups, including those from other states.

Though pawn shops are moving away from taking cell phones, Babb said stolen phones and tablets are not always disposed of locally.

“Some make it all the way out of our country,” said Babb. “Developing countries will activate phones stolen from the U.S. bringing a top dollar there. It doesn’t matter to foreign carriers.”

Babb said one of the new ordinances his office is spearheading is an “interference with a parked car” ordinance.

“It gives deputies a county ordinance to work with if we witness someone looking into multiple autos and pulling door handles on parked cars. Metropolitan areas have been using this with success,” Babb said.

Babb said deputies sometimes witness this at activities such as high school football games but will not see an actual theft. Such an ordinance will give deputies enforcement powers that state law will not provide, said Babb.

Yet another way to combat the rise in entering auto cases is to get the word out, said Babb.

“We call it the clean car campaign,” he said. “Take it, hide it or lock it away — don’t display your valuables. I wish our valuables were safe in our autos, but until we learn to not give prying eyes an opportunity we will lose our property.”