A recent surge in vehicle break-ins and burglaries involving open garage doors has hit South Jeffco, and police are asking residents to avoid helping the criminals to commit the crimes.
"They're assisting the crooks in becoming victims," said Capt. Patricia Woodin, who runs the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office south precinct. She said many of the recent burglaries and car thefts could have been prevented.
According to a statistical breakdown assembled by the sheriff's office, there were 22 vehicle break-ins in South Jeffco between Nov. 16 and 24. Twenty-three cars were stolen in that same time period.
Many of the crimes follow one general scenario: Residents leave a garage door opener in a car parked on the street, and a thief breaks into the vehicle and opens the garage. In many cases, the thief gets into the garage and finds another car — this one with keys in it — and that car becomes the getaway vehicle.
"People are so distracted in life," said sheriff’s spokesman Jim Shires.
Woodin added that perhaps residents aren't security-minded, and that they should start to take simple precautions:
• Don't leave valuables and garage door openers in cars parked on the street.
• Never leave the garage door open unless there's direct supervision.
• Never leave car keys in cars parked in the garage.
• Consider locking the door between the garage and the inside of the house.
Shires said children tend to leave the garage door open when playing around the house, when they come home, or when they leave to spend time with friends.
"People should explain to children reasons to shut the doors," Shires said.
But kids aren't the only ones: Adults often forget to close doors as well. Shires offered a simple rule: "If you can't see that door, it needs to be secured."
Woodin said the sheriff's office will try to impart those lessons to the community more and more in the coming year.
"The focus for next year is working with the community so people can understand what it takes," Shires said.
Woodin said the sheriff's office is using roadside electronic message boards to alert residents about crime trends. The sheriff also sends e-mail alerts, which can be received by registering at www.jeffcosheriff.com.
Each deputy under Woodin's command is assigned to a group of homeowner associations to share information. The sheriff's office also publicizes alerts and crime data in the Columbine Courier and other publications.
"Communication is always the issue," Woodin said.
"But communication is a two-way street," Shires added. "People need to communicate when they see something suspicious."
Shires said that during his days as a street cop, people would say they didn't call the police because they didn't want to bother them.
"It is not a bother," Shires said.
"We're OK with that," Woodin added. "We're grateful for those calls. We've gotten some good arrests from calls. Information is very valuable coming from people."
Car thefts by the numbers
Car thefts countywide have been on the decline, according to the Jeffco Sheriff's Office. In 2003, there were 368 cars stolen in Jeffco. In 2004 and 2005, the numbers went up each year, to 412 and 477, respectively. But in 2006, the number dropped to 354, and in 2007 it was 216. As of Nov. 25, 2008, 178 cars had been stolen in Jeffco.