ST. LOUIS — It’s probably a good time to consider your best defenses against an alarming St. Louis area crime trend: mass car break-ins at overnight businesses. There have been hundreds of victims and hundreds of shattered vehicle windows in five counties in just the past two weeks according to police.
Think of why thieves are drawn to large, open, parking lots where people work overnight shifts: a target-rich environment.
Groups of four or five suspects roll up in the same car and start smashing away, police said. They hit 50 cars at one business in Earth City, according to St. Louis County Police.
Glass “punch” tools meant to help you escape your car if submerged in water, make it easy for the suspects to hit multiple vehicles very quickly.
“Our concern is with the commercial parking,” said Chris Stocker, Manager of Security Services for GardaWorld, which provides security for businesses. Stocker was a member of the St. Louis County Police force for more than 30 years.
He suggests more signage from companies, not just warning criminals about surveillance cameras, but also reminding workers to secure their valuables.
“They’re going to break in, they’re going to pop the trunk, and they’re going to grab your things,” Stocker said. “I realize in today’s world people’s offices are often times their cars, but you really have to be attentive to the fact that if you leave anything of value, there are those that are going to take it from you.”
The best defenses for workers are alarm systems that detect broken glass, parking in groups and leaving nothing visible in your vehicle that may entice a thief, according to Stocker. They almost always look inside before “smashing.”
If you have something you want to hide from view, do it before you leave home and not when you park at work. Assume someone is watching you. For example, if you want to stash your laptop in your trunk, assume they’ll see it.
In the past two weeks, police report 164 break-ins in the Earth City area, more than 30 in St. Peters, with more than a dozen, each, in Fenton, St. Louis, plus Sauget, IL, and Pontoon Beach, in Illinois.
St. Louis County Prosecutor, Wesley Bell, suggests a regional approach to combatting the trend.
“The people who are committing these kinds of crimes are not adhering to borders and jurisdictions. We have to address it ‘in kind’,” he said. “Keep in mind, what is happening in Town & Country, they’re not going to be privy to in Florissant, for example. This way we can start streamlining that information, sharing that information. That helps us be more deliberate and make a bigger impact on these kinds of cases.”
The county’s auto theft task force has broken up a stolen car ring with nine arrests and four convictions since its inception last year, he said.