Nothing frustrates Police Chief Al Hogle more than preventable crime.
But that’s what happened in the early-morning hours of Friday, Aug. 13, when someone entered 10 unlocked cars in Longbeach Village, Sleepy Lagoon and Hideaway Bay neighborhoods and stole valuables from the vehicles.
Six cars were ransacked, but nothing was taken from them. In the other four cases, a $500 navigation system, a $300 navigation system, $50 in cash and a culinary knife set valued at more than $300 were stolen.
And, out of 26 vehicle larceny reports that have been recorded on the Key since January, 18 of those incidents (69%) involved unlocked cars. In five of those incidents, car owners claimed their cars were locked, but there was no sign of forced entry.
“It’s frustrating for the police department to secure the area when the incidents that occur are happening to unlocked vehicles,” Hogle said. “It’s an ongoing battle we have in trying to educate the island’s residents.”
Hogle called the incidents “crimes of opportunity” for novice burglars who prey on cars that are easy to access.
He doesn’t believe, however, that the recent incidents have anything to do with a string of vehicle larcenies that occurred earlier this year.
On March 19, five vehicles on the Key were broken into by means of a smashed window, according to Longboat Key Police Department incident reports.
The rash of burglaries occurred at points all over the Key, including Sands Point, Inn on the Beach, Bayview, Sunrise Shore and Fairway Bay.
More than $5,000 in valuables was stolen from the vehicles, and it was the first rash of vehicle burglaries since November 2009, when the suspects, who were arrested by Longboat Key police officers, entered 21 unlocked cars and stole valuables.
Vehicle thefts decreased after the arrests, and officers committed to checking condominium parking lots for unlocked vehicles and securing them. Officers also placed — and continue to place — “We Found Your Vehicle Unlocked” notices on cars to alert residents.
Hogle has made a budget recommendation for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 to include two additional patrol officers to help combat crime on the island.
The Town Commission has agreed to Hogle’s request.
“At the end of the day, any additional patrol-car presence acts as a deterrent for these types of crimes,” Hogle said.
Hogle will also continue to investigate camera surveillance systems this summer and later this year hopes to make a recommendation to the Town Commission on a system that could deter these types of crimes.
Hogle believes the system, estimated to cost about $150,000, can be funded through the state’s law-enforcement trust fund.
At the Town Commission’s Feb. 18 regular workshop, Hogle received permission from the commission to continue investigating a system that could take pictures of license plates as they come on and off the Key on both ends of the island.
The plate information is captured in approximately 250 milliseconds and can be sent to a remote computer server at the police department for further processing or directly to laptops inside patrol cars.
The system would take pictures of the license plates, but not the people driving the vehicles.
The data would be sent to the Florida Crime Information Center, which would immediately notify the police if any of the images taken contained information about a stolen vehicle or a wanted person alert.
“Criminals driving onto this island would see a sign next to the camera system alerting them they are being recorded,” Hogle said. “It’s a strong deterrent to easy crimes of opportunity.”
In the meantime, Hogle points to a simple way to stop crimes of opportunity.
“Lock your doors,” Hogle said.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com.
OVER THE YEARS
Year Vehicle Larcenies
BY THE NUMBERS
Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogle points to Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime statistics to explain why he is recommending the town hire back a patrol officer and a captain at a cost of $235,000.
Thefts from vehicles on Longboat Key rose 338.9% in 2009 and home burglaries rose 20%.
In total, the town saw a 104% increase in crime, or 88 more crime incidents in 2009, than the previous year.
Click here to download a PDF breaking down year-to-year change in offenses from 2008 to 2009.
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