More than three dozen juveniles have been arrested in connection with more than two dozen vehicle burglaries and attempted break-ins over the past couple of weeks.
The roundup began earlier this month, when ten suspects were collared in the North Hill area. Last weekend, 11 others were arrested at an apartment complex off Scenic Highway, and at Spencer Bibbs Elementary School.
“We’ve used some overtime money. We’ve put additional officers out on the street, and that has resulted in the arrest of 37 suspects,” said Pensacola Assistant Police Chief Tommy Leiter, who says the suspects, who range in age from 11-17, face a host of charges:
“Burglary, grand theft, petit theft and loitering and prowling as well,” Leiter said. “The State Attorney will make a decision on whether or not to charge them as adults or juveniles.”
According to investigators, there’s been one common thread in almost every incident – unlocked vehicles.
“What we’re seeing are these groups of juveniles that’ll walk through an apartment complex or a neighborhood, and they’ll just start checking door handles,” said Leiter. “And if they get a door that’s unlocked, they’ll ransack the car, the glove box, and under the seats and that kind of stuff.”
And while many of the break-ins took place under cover of night, Leiter says there have been some committed in broad daylight. And that leads to some tips on protecting your car and your personal property. There are three big messages being sent out by the Pensacola PD. Locking your vehicle is number one.
“Number two: hide your valuables,” said Leiter. “Ideally, if there’s something you have to leave in your car overnight, we prefer that you lock it in a truck out of sight. And then the third one of what we’re seeing is when they unlock the door and start ransacking the cars, they’re finding spare keys – in which case they’re actually stealing the cars.”
The burglars are also finding guns in some of the cars and trucks. Assistant Chief Tommie Leiter says part of being a responsible gun owner is securing their firearms. He’s also quick to add that he’s not beating up on those who have had their cars targeted.
“You should be able to leave your purse in your car, in your driveway, and not have to worry about somebody stealing it,” Leiter said. “But, the reality of it is that you can’t do that in 2015.”
The Pensacola Police Department is urging residents to keep a sharp eye on their neighbors’ homes and vehicles, and call law enforcement if they see anyone acting suspiciously.