Lock it or lose it. That’s the message police are conveying in regard to the recent increase in attempted break-ins and theft of vehicles across the St. Louis County area.
Lock it or Lose it is a national campaign to remind residents to lock their vehicles to prevent theft. The program, in its various forms, is not new but is being actively deployed in municipalities across St. Louis, including in Des Peres.
Within the city limits of Des Peres, police are using Lock it or Lose it yard signs, social media and a message trailer help to spread the word. Public Safety Officer Brandon Elzinga said it’s the clearest, most concise way to remind residents to do their part in avoiding what he said has become an epidemic.
No municipality in the county is considered immune, although certain areas – Chesterfield, Fenton and unincorporated St. Louis County – top the list of affected areas, according to early reports.
Chesterfield Police Sgt. Keith Rider explained that since May, there have been 21 stolen vehicles in Chesterfield, up from five during the same time last year. Loss of personal property from vehicles increased from 18 reports last year to 38 reports during the same time period this year. He said 99.9% of those thefts were from unlocked vehicles, often with the key fob in the car. More disturbing is that some firearms were left in those unlocked vehicles putting weapons into the criminal’s hands.
A chain reaction of the break-ins is that, if a criminal can access a vehicle and a garage opener is inside the car, access to the house can be achieved as well.
“We have a strong presence on social media to remind our residents to make sure their cars are locked,” Rider said.
According to Rider, Chesterfield Police also is expanding its Lock it or Lose it program to include visual reminders.
Elzinga said residents reporting suspicious activity also play a role in tackling this issue. One helpful resource has been when residents turn over to local police footage, recorded by residential video cameras and showing criminal activity in an area.
A recent 8-second video posted to the social networking site Nextdoor showed two individuals on either side of the street racing from house to house checking for unlocked cars. In the video, a chaser vehicle drives slowly down the road following them.
According to police, this scenario frequently is seen. They urge residents to share any and all break-in attempts with the police rather than simply posting to social media. That request holds true regardless of a criminal’s success in breaking into a vehicle.
One of the challenges police face is that there is not always a pattern of behavior. For instance, Rider shared, it’s unclear at this point if the recent uptick in thefts is the result of an organized group moving from town to town or if more individuals are seeking crimes of opportunity because of recent publicity.
Manchester Police Chief Scott Will said crime details, such as suspect and vehicle descriptions, are shared weekly or even daily as necessary between local police departments to help solve crimes and establish patterns. Early discussions also are in place for a county-wide task force to tackle the issue in a way that is beneficial to all affected cities.
In the meantime, area police departments say they are strengthening their neighborhood patrols in both marked and unmarked vehicles.
Ultimately, the goal is to get the criminals off the street, Elzinga said, but locking homes and vehicles is a tried and true method of deterring most crimes. “It’s really just that simple,” he said.