One thing often leads to another, and in this case one unlocked car that is broken into by a criminal leads to identity theft cases, fraud, gun crimes, home invasions, burglaries, and other crimes that keep detectives chasing criminals from one side of the county to another.
“By far it is our biggest problem,” Hillsborough County Deputy Mark Wilder said.
ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska rode along with Wilder as he patrolled the streets of district 4.
“Each day is different,” Wilder said. But, one thing remains constant— burglaries and auto break-ins.
Since the beginning of the year Hillsborough County investigators have responded to 2,037 vehicle burglaries. As I write this, the number has probably already gone up. Of those more than 60 percent were criminals that simply flipped the handle and went right in.
“From there they have access to garage door openers and your home,” Wilder said.
A new trend is forming where burglars don’t just hit the car and leave, they go inside your home while you are sleeping search for keys to any other cars in the driveway and steal those too.
“It is nothing for detectives to come in and have 10 new cases after one evening,” Wilder said. “Actually, it makes it very difficult. Now, the victim's having to wait even longer for a detective to get in contact with them, the detectives are having to go out to multiple scenes make contact with victims. Unfortunately it becomes extremely lengthy. You have so many of them.”
Pinellas County investigators said more than 80 percent of all of their vehicle break-ins are from unlocked cars. In Manatee, it is the same story. More than half of all of their cases this year are from people leaving their car doors unlocked.
“People leave their wallets, purses inside the car,” Wilder said. “Anything you need for identity theft.”
That leads to another investigation, another case detectives are trying to track down. Then there are the thefts of guns from vehicles.
“He had a glock that was stolen underneath the seat but then he also had an AR-15, a Ruger Mini-14, and a Mossberg shotgun all in the trunk of the vehicle they luckily didn't go through the trunk and get those. But,we had a case the other day where they did go through the trunk and found an AK-47. It has definitely changed there are more guns on the streets.”
Criminals don’t buy guns legally they steal them from cars, homes, businesses. Wilder went door to door warning residents about locking their doors. Conversations he hopes will lead people to listen and be smarter.
“No one thinks about it until they’ve been a victim,” Wilder said.
In the neighborhoods Wilder patrolled, on just one street, there were 3 unlocked cars. He knocked on each door to talk with each resident.
“Deputy Wilder with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office,” he said as one woman opened the door.
“Hi ma’am you had two cars unlocked,” Wilder said.
“OK… thanks,” she responded back and in less than a minute shut the door.
Down the street at least the guy who left his truck unlocked full of hundreds of dollars worth of tools took the time to come back out and lock the truck.
“He had no clue,” Wilder said. “He was appreciative I let him know.”
One small victory in a battle against criminals that seems never ending.