Common sense goes a long way toward thwarting theft. Plant City Police Department responds to several calls every single week of break ins that could have easily been prevented.
While the cheers of the weekend spectators at Mike Sansone Community Park encourage young athletes around its diamond shaped bases it also acts as a perfect audible mask for thieves to break into parked cars unnoticed.
On April 23, three drivers returned to their vehicles to find a mound of shattered glass and empty seats. In each case, the victims had left purses and valuables in plain view. Some of what was lost, like money, drivers licenses and social security cards, can be relatively easily replaced.
However, when rifling through one vehicle, the suspect wrapped their hands around a much more dangerous treasure: a .40- caliber Glock, according to reports from Plant City Police Department.
Al Van Duyne, spokesman for PCPD, said too often officers have to work cases that could have easily been prevented.
“You kind of got to use common sense and not leave these things in plain view,” Van Duyne said. “Every year we tell people the same thing, especially around the holidays when people are doing their Christmas shopping or right around the start of summer when kids are out of school. Don’t leave things in plain sight and always, always lock your car.”
Residents in Plant City frequently live their lives with a false sense of security, he said. When going to the gym downtown he often will notice multiple cars unlocked with laptops, purses and phones sitting in plain sight.
Local officers visit Walden Lake alone three to five times a week over thefts. More often than not, the resident failed to lock their vehicle, close their garage door or left valuable items lying out in the yard.
It’s a problem that isn’t going away and one that Van Duyne said with simple common sense practices could be easily prevented.
“It’s bananas,” he said. “If we could get the people in Walden Lake to secure their houses and vehicles it would make our jobs so much easier. On any given day you can drive through Walden lake at 9:30 and just see opportunities. You take notice that there’s a golf cart in the garage with $1,000 golf clubs just sitting in the back. There’s tons of lawn equipment, tools and other valuables just lying around.”
One easy trick thieves often employ is they will wait until dark and then simply start driving through neighborhoods. If a homeowner went to their vehicle to retrieve an item and then did not properly shut the door the dome light will remain on, acting as a beacon for ill-willed guests.
Lights, in general, are often a main attractor. Phones, GPS units or other electronic devices will illuminate a car, acting as a proverbial “x-marks-the-spot” for all who pass by. Guns are also a growing issue in Hillsborough County and the state as a whole as concealed carriers leave them in vehicles that are then stolen or broken into.
Over the past decade, more than 80,000 guns have gone missing in Florida, according to a study by the Tampa Bay Times. It found in 2016 alone, on average, at least one gun was reported stolen every single hour. The consequences of a moment of carelessness can be fatal.
“Just take it in the house or at the very least ensure your vehicle and weapon are secure,” Van Duyne said.
Simple steps can make leaps toward preventing such intrusions from ever happening. However, if a theft does occur it is essential the owner has the serial number of the items taken to aid in police retrieval.
There are countless Apple iPads or Samsung phones, innumerable X-boxes and Playstations and without a serial number, the odds of it ever being tracked down are minimal. As for guns, the serial number can be entered into a national database if it is reported stolen. Regardless of if the suspect is found two streets away from the incident or on the other side of the country, that gun can still be identified thanks to the database.
“You hear the term, ‘make yourself a hardened target’ and that makes so much sense,” Van Duyne said. “You don’t have to be a bad guy to think like a bad guy. Start looking around, see what they’re seeing. Then take the steps to secure your property and take that target off your back.”