April 26, 2019

Multiple Car Break-ins Amount to $33,000 in Stolen Goods

Each week, two to three vehicles parked on the streets of Oxford are broken in to and have items stolen from them.
Items stolen in these robberies range in value, from loose change or a cell phone charger to a $1,500 laptop computer and a $7,000 Cartier watch.
According to Oxford Police reports, these car thefts are happening more frequently.

In the span of almost two months, $33,086 worth of goods were stolen from vehicles parked in Oxford. OPD sent the Observer 30 police reports dated from March 1 to April 20, detailing all of the thefts from vehicles, including the items stolen, what they were valued at, when they were stolen and whether there were any identified suspects.  

Some reports also listed whether the car was locked or unlocked. At least one-third of the reports clearly state the vehicles were unlocked, but five indicated that the vehicles were locked. Only a few of the reports listed signs of forced entry, but Oxford Police Sgt. Jon Varley said that there are ways around that.

“If the vehicles were truly locked, there are tools out there that can be purchased relatively easily,” Varley said. “It doesn't leave any marks on the vehicle. It’s entirely possible if they have the correct equipment and they know how to use it that they can be in and out of a vehicle in a matter of few seconds.”

In recent years, thefts from locked and unlocked vehicles have steadily increased, escalating from 74 thefts in 2016 to 115 thefts in 2017 and 153 incidents in 2018. This year, 60 incidents have already been reported.

“We think they (thieves) are getting bolder, hitting more frequently in more areas in Oxford as well. (It’s) not just confined to a certain area,” Varley said. “In previous years, it might’ve been confined to the Mile Square. Now, we’ve been taking reports from all over the city.”

The increased number of such crimes, and the wide area over which they occur, makes it more difficult for OPD to catch the thieves. Officers will sit in unmarked cars, in plain clothes, to watch certain areas for suspicious activity. They’ve also set up “bait cars,” with valuable goods clearly laid out in plain sight to entice potential car thieves to break in and steal those items.

“We don’t have an unlimited number of cars we can use, or officers to watch them… (but we’re) trying to get people to target that car, see if we can get somebody while they're trying to do it,” Varley said. “Since… it’s spread out all over city, we don’t know where they’re going to be. We’re taking a shot in the dark for where to watch, and hope we're close by and we chose the right area.”

Based on the reports, the most popular area for theft was on the north and south ends of Beech Street, followed closely by the parking lot at Hawk’s Landing, 5262 Brown Road. Three car break-ins occurred there between March 1-6. In a large parking lot at an apartment complex like that, it’s all too easy for thieves to “act like they’re supposed to be there” and break into someone’s car, Varley said.

“A lot of apartment complexes… there’s nobody watching the cars, nobody knows whose car belongs to who,” Varley said. “Somebody being in a car in an apartment complex isn’t going to attract attention unless by some chance the observer knows the person doesn’t belong in that vehicle, which is very rare.”

A majority of the thefts from the past two months occurred near residences off campus, and two-thirds of the incidents occurred overnight. This is not a coincidence, said Chief John McCandless of the Miami University Police Department.  

“We’ve only got the three storage lots (on campus), and one of them is down here at the police department, so it’s very gutsy to come down here. If you look at our storage lots they’re so well lit—something they (thieves) aren't looking for if they’re going to break into cars,” McCandless said. Additionally, there’s “always a lot of activity coming and going, and if people are breaking into cars, they don't want to be where they can be detected.”

Fully-lit parking lots and plenty of pedestrian activity may explain why thieves don’t often break into cars on campus. But similar conditions didn’t keep someone from damaging and breaking into three separate vehicles at Oxford Lanes 9 p.m. on  a Tuesday night, or why they would steal golf clubs from a car in an Uptown parking lot at 10:45 in the morning.

“Crimes of opportunity—somebody who's just walking and sees golf clubs or a laptop, that makes the risk worth the reward, if they can get away with it,” McCandless said. “We do tend to see those. Keep valuables locked in trunks, not where anyone can see it— that goes a long way to not getting your car broken into. But people get busy, somebody maybe was on their way to golf, who would think that their car wouldn’t be safe midday in a public area? It doesn’t cross a lot of people's minds, so I certainly understand how that can happen.”

Reporter Emily Pure contributed to this story.