Police Chief Joe Treviño said this week that purses, expensive cellular phones, electronics equipment and other items are a magnet for anyone looking for something that can be stolen easily.
Just locking the car doors isn’t enough to deter thieves, said Detective Lt. Rene Guerrero.
He said that in each of five recent burglaries someone “punched out” a lock or an entire door handle in broad daylight and snatched valuables from a vehicle.
When thieves punch out a lock, they insert a device, such as a screw driver, into the lock and hit the handle with a hammer, knocking the lock through the handle and unlocking the door.
The first two incidents were reported at 3:40 p.m. April 12 at the parking lot of the Rio 6 Theater at 806 E. Houston St.
Two men, the victims, waited for police at the scene.
Patrolman Michael Benton spoke to a 20-year-old victim who said someone took a Garmin GPS device, a $200 cellular phone, a $300 Apple I-Phone, an $80 Pantech cellular phone and a $500 Diablo sports predator performance chip from his vehicle.
The victim said the thief punched the lock on the driver’s side door to gain entry and then cut the wires on a $3,000 alarm system.
He said the lost items and the damage done to his vehicle would cost him about $5,880.
The second victim, a 48-year-old Berclair man, said someone pushed in the door handle on his Chevrolet and took a purse, a $300 camera, a $300 Sony compact disc player and a $20 case for glasses. Damages and lost items would cost him $905.
Benton also spoke to a 50-year-old man at 1:18 p.m. on April 14 who was eating lunch in a restaurant at the College North Shopping Center when someone broke into his Chevrolet pickup.
The man said he had been in the restaurant between 12:50 and 1:15 p.m. and noticed the burglary when he returned to the parking lot.
Someone had removed the lock on the truck and gotten inside. The thief then took a $169 cellular phone and an $85 black briefcase.
Patrolman Peter Silvas met the next victim at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 502 E. FM 351 at 2:12 p.m. the same day.
A 50-year-old woman said she had parked her Ford pickup in the lot and went inside to work at the store’s pharmacy.
When she returned to the vehicle, she found the truck’s door handle on the ground and a stereo set and a Boost mobile phone missing.
The victim said the burglary would cost her about $275.
At 5:03 that same day, Patrolman Patrick Mitchell was called to police headquarters to speak to a 30-year-old woman who said someone had broken into her Chevrolet Tahoe earlier.
The woman said she was at work in the 800 block of South Tyler Street when the theft took place.
She said the passenger side door lock had been pushed back and her purse, with $3,000 in cash in it, was missing. The thief also got a $30 phone charger.
Guerrero said investigators have been actively looking for a suspect in all of the thefts but he encouraged people to take care not to leave valuable items in parked cars where they can be seen from outside the vehicle.
In each case, Guerrero said, the crime was one of opportunity. The thief apparently knows what he is doing and will not hesitate to break into a car in broad daylight in a busy parking lot.
“Expensive cell phones, purses, stereos, amplifiers, all were left out and easy to take,” Guerrero said.
He said he is fairly certain the same person is committing the burglaries because of the way the door locks and handle assemblies have been knocked off or punched in when the burglary is committed.
“These burglaries are not being done in one particular area,” Guerrero said. That makes it harder for officers to look for suspicious activity.
“The least thing you can do is to not leave that stuff out in the open,” the detective said. A cellular phone can easily be placed in a glove compartment, thrown under the seat or somewhere else out of sight. He recommended putting purses in the trunk or under a seat and taking cash or other valuable items with you when you leave the vehicle.
“Just little things like that would go a long way toward stopping these burglaries,” Guerrero said.
He urged people simply to get into the habit of hiding valuable property every time they park their cars and trucks. It is not something they should only do when vehicle burglaries are taking place.