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Rash of car burglaries has Sheriff’s Office on alert

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image A car burglar is captured on a surveillance video casing a car in Brandon before breaking in.

Law enforcement officials recently issued a warning about the spike in vehicle burglaries, which may be the work of an organized gang.

By KEVIN BRADY

A spate of car burglaries in the Brandon/Riverview area has local drivers beating down the doors at businesses that install car alarms.

Law enforcement officials recently issued a warning about the spike in vehicle burglaries, which may be the work of an organized gang.

There were 55 vehicle burglaries reported in Riverview, Ruskin, Wimauma and Sun City Center between April 21 and May 12, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. District Two, which includes Brandon, Seffner, Dover, Clair Mel and Palm River, reported 47 vehicles hit over the same period.

In most cases the thieves entered the vehicles via unlocked doors or by breaking windows, removing all manner of electronics such as cell phones and laptops.

“There’s been an influx of orders for car alarms lately because people are either hearing that a neighbor’s car has been broken into or their own car has been burglarized,” said Louis Perez, a manager at Riverview’s Audio Plus Inc., 10050 Gibsonton Drive. Perez caters to drivers in Riverview, Sun City Center, Apollo Beach and Brandon.

Normally installing one or two car alarms per week, Audio Plus has been working on double that amount in the last two months. “We’ve done seven in the last two weeks,” Perez said.

It’s a similar story at Car Tunes, 113 Lithia Pinecrest Road, where owner Jason Fields has been installing car alarms for 11 years.

“We have gone from installing two to three alarms a week to six a week over the last couple of months,” Fields said. “We usually see a little spike in orders around spring break and at the start of the summer and Christmas, but this recent increase has no rhyme nor reason.”

Car burglaries come in waves and can often be attributed to a small number of individuals, according to Debbie Carter, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office.

“[They often] target a specific neighborhood and unfortunately the majority of the vehicles are unlocked,” Carter said.

A surveillance video obtained by the Sheriff’s Office captured one burglar’s modus operandi. Strolling along a darkened street in the Lake Shore Ranch subdivision near Wheeler and Valrico roads, the man is seen inspecting a number of vehicles on the street before coming upon an SUV parked in a driveway.

Wearing dark clothes and a ski mask, the thief is undeterred by passing vehicles, hiding under the SUV. Circling the vehicle several times and using a small flashlight to look inside, the man then smashes the window and removes several items from the car. The thief hit two other cars in the same neighborhood that night, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Adding insult to injury, drivers not only have to replace costly radios or phones that may have been swiped in the burglary, they have to pay for damage to the vehicle.

“Typically, the car burglar will bust the door handle or locks and also do damage inside the car,” said Fields, who said the average bill for damage caused by a car burglar runs between $700-800. “And that’s not even counting the cost of replacing a radio or anything else that may have been stolen. Then there’s the cost of a new car alarm. It can get close to $1,000 in the end.”

Some drivers also believe, erroneously, that a keyless entry system on their car equates to a car alarm, Fields said. “People are starting to wise up to this. It’s only when they get broken into that they start to look at alarms. It’s not until they are violated that they want to know what their options are.”

“Vehicle crimes are a crime of opportunity,” said Jeff Service, a sheriff’s office deputy. A typical car burglary might see a thief come across an unlocked car with a purse in plain view. Not only will the purse and any other valuables be taken, but the purse may also be a chance for the thief to steal the owner’s identity if it contains a driver’s license or checkbook.

Some simple precautions help, Carter said.

“This is an opportunity to remind people not to leave valuables in their car that can be seen from the outside and always lock the door,” Carter said. “Even if you are just leaving the car for a few minutes, always lock the doors. Don’t make yourself an easy target.”

Anyone with any information on the suspect in the Lake Shore Ranch car burglary, or any recent break-in, can call the Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200.

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