Sumter has seen a spike in vehicle break-ins this year, and Sumter Police Department noticed a trend in possibly why those crimes have occurred.
There has been a 36 percent increase in the number of vehicles broken into compared to this time last year, said Tonyia McGirt, the department's public information officer, and more than 90 percent of those break-ins involved unlocked vehicles.
It does not matter where you live - vehicle break-ins are not isolated to certain neighborhoods, McGirt said.
Lt. Bill Lyons, a detective in the department's investigations division, said the issue started growing in 2012.
"We have a problem with vehicle break-ins," he said.
Vehicle windows are broken occasionally, but targeted vehicles are usually left unlocked, Lyons said. As many as 30 vehicles have been entered in one night.
Recently, officers arrested three teenagers - 14, 16 and 18 years old - for allegedly breaking into vehicles in the historic district of the city and taking firearms, money and electronic devices on Nov. 5. According to the police department, all of the vehicles they targeted were unlocked. Some of the items reported stolen were recovered after the arrests.
This is a preventable problem, Lyons said. He described break-ins as crimes of opportunity.
When a person has the desire and ability to commit a crime, the opportunity will be taken advantage of when it is presented, he said.
Something as simple as a phone charger could motivate a criminal to pull on the door handle and try to enter the vehicle, he said.
Lyons said multiple unlocked cars can encourage criminals to stay in or return to certain areas to commit more break-ins.
When a person pulls on the door handle of an unlocked vehicle, the alarm does not go off, allowing criminals to move on to the next vehicle, Lyons said.
The sound of a window breaking or an alarm going off could alert people in the neighborhood and possibly prevent other break-ins, he said.
There may be times when items such as concealed firearms have to be left inside vehicles, but they should be hidden from sight, he said.
Lyons said the best practice is to remove all valuables when getting home because most break-ins happen overnight. That includes coolers and tool boxes in the bed of pick-up trucks, he said.
Once you start locking your car every night before going to bed, it will become habit, he said.
"We want the community to help themselves," Lyons said.
Report all vehicle break-ins, even if nothing was taken, he said, and report any suspicious people or vehicles seen in your neighborhood at night.
Make sure to provide details of the person or vehicle, McGirt said.
The police department urges residents to be especially vigilant during this time of year - the holiday season.
Park in well-lit areas and secure valuable items out of sight before walking away from your vehicle, Lyons said, and never leave your car unattended while it is on, even if you are letting it warm up in the morning.
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