As long as there have been cars, there have been car break-ins.
And the current economy, combined with the trend of more cars containing pricey gadgets, has only spurred more instances of entering autos on the national and local level.
Gainesville police estimate their entering auto cases are up by as much as 20 percent over last year.
“There’s definitely been an increase,” said Sgt. Shawn Welsh of the department’s criminal investigation division.
In two weeks this month — a typical two weeks — 22 entering auto cases were reported in the Gainesville city limits, according to police reports.
They were all over, from the parking lots of Lowe’s and Walmart on Skelton and Shallowford Roads, to Mar-Jac Poultry on Dorsey Street, to Del Ray Farms on Browns Bridge Road.
Thieves stole from cars at apartment complexes or condos on West Avenue, Orchard Brook Drive, Paces Court and Riverside Drive.
They struck during the day and at night.
“We are looking at the economy, the times, and I think it falls back to the fact that the majority of entering autos involve (victims) who are complacent,” Welsh said.
Victims don’t lock their car doors, or if they do, they leave a wallet or cell phone on the front seat or a Global Positioning System attached to the windshield.
“Their (valuables) are in plain sight, and that’s just asking to be a target,” Welsh said. “People need to take an extra minute to put the GPS in the glove box or put the cell phone under the seat.”
Welsh said Police Chief Brian Kelly is considering new strategies to attack the entering auto problem, with targeted patrols and plainclothes operations in unmarked cars.
“We’re going to be doing some surveillance on some of these target areas,” Welsh said. “We’re looking to get out in the field and set up some ‘bait’ cars.”
Poultry plants have been one prime target area, where thieves hit parking lots that don’t have roaming security.
“They’re getting smarter,” Welsh said. “They know when their break time is, when they go in to work and when they get off.”
Residential car break-ins vary widely, Welsh said.
“It may be older homes off Pearl Nix one weekend, and Club Drive the next,” he said.
Investigators note that many car break-ins are unsolvable when victims contaminate fingerprint evidence by going through the car before officers arrive. Police believe the department’s new computerized fingerprint matching system will help solve more entering auto cases, but only if there are still good prints at the scene.
People also need to record the serial numbers of their GPS, phones, laptop computers and car stereos, Welsh said.
“We could probably recover half of the stolen property if people would just keep their serial numbers,” he said.
Most importantly, police need residents to keep an eye out for them. Many arrests are made when a person calls 911 to report suspicious behavior.
“People need to get involved,” Welsh said. “When you see four guys dressed in black standing around a parked car, we call that a clue.”