September 11, 2019 10:59:53 AM
Starkville experienced 31 reported auto burglaries, six of which occurred within an 90 minutes, in the week starting with Labor Day, according to data from the Starkville Police Department.
There were 22 auto burglaries between 8 a.m. Sept. 2 and 8 a.m. Monday, 12 of which occurred after 8 a.m. Friday, SPD tweeted Monday. Nine more occurred during the day on Monday, and seven of those were forced-entry break-ins that caused vehicle damage, SPD Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady said.
So far there have been no arrests for any of the 31 incidents.
Auto burglary is always a felony in Mississippi. The vast majority of instances happen when someone walks through a parking lot testing car door handles, looking for anything unlocked, and most of the first 22 burgled cars were, Lovelady said.
To have multiple "smash-and-grab" thefts in one day is "out of the ordinary," he said.
Three of the seven forced entries happened in a parking lot on Hospital Road, and three more outside a complex of medical clinics at the intersection of Highway 182 and Stark Road. The seventh was in the parking lot at Walmart, an "extremely odd" place for it to happen, said Capt. Brett Watson of the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office.
One break-in at the Highway 182 medical complex happened just before noon, but the other six forced entries all occurred between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., Lovelady said.
It is "not uncommon" for auto burglaries to occur in clusters, and there are often fewer perpetrators than incidents, Watson said.
"Generally, when we're able to solve them, we solve them in batches," he said. "If we make an arrest, it's usually not for one auto burglary. It's usually for multiple auto burglaries."
Property crime is the most common type of crime in Oktibbeha County, and the academic year has higher theft numbers because of the Mississippi State University student population, Watson said.
According to the SPD Twitter account, there were three reported auto burglaries during the week of Aug. 5 to Aug. 12 and three during the week of Aug. 12 to Aug. 19. The number went up to nine during the week of Aug. 19 to Aug. 26, the first week of classes at MSU.
The department did not tweet crime report data from the week of Aug. 26 to Sept. 2.
Unlocked doors and broken windows
As of Tuesday, there have been 112 reported auto burglaries in Oktibbeha County outside the Starkville city limits so far this year. In the extremely rare instance that a burglar breaks the car windows, that person is almost always from outside Oktibbeha County, Watson said.
He and Lovelady both emphasized locking car doors and taking valuables inside as the best ways to prevent auto burglaries.
"Twenty years ago, when I first started in law enforcement, (they were) all broken windows," Watson said. "That's how we found them. We drove around looking for the glass on the ground. Nowadays it's just open doors. I don't know what changed, but it's virtually all people not locking their cars."
The week immediately following Labor Day in 2018 saw only eight auto burglaries, according to a tweet from SPD at the time, but the number of auto burglaries between August 1 and Sept 10 went down from 63 last year to 55 this year, Lovelady said. Similarly, the number of auto burglaries from June 1 to Sept. 10 decreased from 139 last year to 94 this year, he said.
Lovelady told The Dispatch in August that auto burglaries are "a major contributor" to firearm theft, also an issue in Columbus. However, only three of the 31 recent burglaries resulted in a report of firearm theft, and none of them were the seven forced entries, Lovelady said Tuesday.
Watson estimated that gun theft made up about one-third of the 112 auto burglaries outside the city.
SPD encourages the public to report suspicious behavior, Lovelady said. Watson added people should take pictures of their valuables, because authorities are much more likely to recover stolen personal items if there are photos to use for reference.
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