ST. GEORGE — Officers in St. George and throughout Washington County have seen a surge in the number of vehicle burglaries reported in recent weeks, prompting authorities to warn residents that criminals are traveling to the area with one objective in mind: To steal as much as they can from as many vehicles as possible, police say.
Vehicle break-ins spike during warmer months, which is a well-established crime pattern that keeps officers busy from spring to the end of summer. The numbers continue to climb despite the fact that many cars are now equipped with engine immobilizers, on-board vehicle recovery devices and sophisticated alarm systems that have become standard in the quest to reduce the risk of a car burglary.
Even so, St. George Police Officer Tiffany Mitchell said the department has received 30 vehicle burglary reports within the last few months and many of the vehicles broken into were parked at trailheads, gyms, sports parks or other areas where the owners are away from the vehicle and occupied with other activities.
These are “crimes of opportunity,” she said, and suspects are targeting vehicles that are parked for extended periods of time in areas where there is little foot traffic, making it less likely their illegal activities will be noticed.
Past activity has shown that many of these groups come from out of the area and even from out of the country, Mitchell said. Once they are done, they flee the state making it even more difficult to identify or arrest them.
Moreover, during any given year, the number of reports spiked during the summer months. But this year, the number of vehicle burglaries has remained high since the beginning of the year.
Similar numbers have been seen in Washington City and the number of reports has been higher than normal, Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams said.
St. George’s Mitchell said that many of the reports are “smash and grab” crimes where the suspects break in quickly and grab as many items – including electronics, bank cards and other valuables – as they can before they hit the next car and so on.
The property is then converted into cash as quickly as possible by purchasing gift cards with stolen credit or debit cards and then using them as cash, or they sell or take the stolen items with them to sell at a later time once they have left the area.
In fact, car break-ins are one of the most common forms of larceny in the U.S. While thieves may not want the car itself, they’re very interested in what’s inside, according to Nationwide Insurance.
Officers continue to follow various leads but at this point, Mitchell said, it appears the incidents are being committed by groups of individuals who come to the area for the expressed purpose of breaking into cars and stealing, she said.
Similar incidents have been reported over the last few years, but this year the problem is even worse. In fact, officers were called out to a burglary off of 700 South recently where they and found a car that was reportedly stolen and inside, they found items they said were taken during a rash of recent car burglaries.
Moreover, thieves have an abundance of tools and are going high-tech to find the owner’s valuables, according to a report published last month.
Williams said the vehicles involved in Washington City are not only parked at trailheads and parks, but they have received a number of reports from residents whose cars are broken into while parked in the driveway or in front of their homes. He also said the number of vehicle burglaries is up all over the county.
Mitchell said there have been nearly 100 vehicle burglaries reported throughout the county.
The bottom line, Williams said, is that residents need to keep their valuables with them or in their house – anywhere other than their vehicle.
Part of what is contributing to the rise in reports is the quality of life that St. George and cities throughout Washington County has to offer, Mitchell said. But that can also create a false sense of security, which is not lost on the criminal element either.
Authorities recommend that residents remain vigilant when it comes to protecting their property and avoid leaving valuables in their vehicles. Even if those items are hidden, experienced thieves have ways to find them quickly once they gain entry into the car.
Instead, keep all valuables in a safe place or at home whenever possible, and park where there is a lot of foot traffic that acts as a deterrent – the last thing these criminals want is a crowd of onlookers.
Making it as difficult as possible to break into a car is also recommended, and while there is no sure way to deter this type of crime, there are some steps owners can take to make the vehicle a less appealing target to opportunity-seeking thieves.
The most important security step a car owner can take is to lock their vehicle, as many of the burglaries reported involved an unlocked car. Moreover, never leave the keys in or on the vehicle, even in a great hiding place, because it is very likely a thief has already thought of it.
Ensuring that the car’s security system is activated whenever the owner is away is also recommended, and if the car is not equipped with an alarm then purchasing an after-market system will work to enhance safety, Nationwide says.
The public can also help to reduce the number of break-ins reported by remaining vigilant in securing their vehicles and their property, as criminals know the areas that are easiest to hit. So making it more difficult and less beneficial can also deter them from targeting the area, Mitchell said, which in turn reduces the risk of becoming a victim in the future.
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