‘Be vigilant’ — Northeast JoCo sees uptick in auto thefts, burglaries

With auto thefts and burglaries on the rise across northeast Johnson County, local police are asking residents to lock their vehicles and take their belongings inside to help reduce the opportunity for crime.

Recently, there’s been an uptick in auto thefts and burglaries across northeast Johnson County and police officers have a message for residents: lock your car doors.

Lenexa’s stolen car reports have more than doubled in 2020, while Merriam has had an 83% uptick. Leawood is experiencing auto theft at more than six times the rate of 2019, while Shawnee’s auto theft increase is less dramatic at 17%.

Meanwhile, Overland Park has had 605 auto burglaries (when items are stolen from vehicles) so far this year, compared to the total 628 in 2019. Prairie Village has had more than 60 auto burglaries this year compared to 55 in all of 2019.

Officers are asking the public to help decrease the opportunity for crime. This means locking car doors, rolling up windows, taking the keys out of cars, and closing garage doors.

Here’s more specifics on auto theft and auto burglaries and steps being taken to combat the issue.

Fairway

The city of Fairway has seen an uptick in auto burglaries, Chief David Brown said during the Monday’s city council meeting. Brown said in Fairway, burglars will typically go from neighbor to neighbor looking for unlocked cars.

Brown asked Fairway residents to lock their car doors, even those who are concerned about having a broken window from a car thief, because it’s better than waking up with no car.

“My message for the council and for our community is please, please, please take your valuables inside at night, lock your car doors up and you’ll have your car and your possessions in the morning.” Brown said.

Leawood

The Leawood Police Department has recorded 37 auto theft reports from Jan. 1 to Sept. 13, 2020, compared to six reports last year, Public Information Officer Brad Robbins said. Many of the recent thefts occurred when keys were left inside an unlocked car, or when an unlocked vehicle had a garage door opener in it and it was used to get into the garage where the car keys were.

Robbins said the department increased its residential patrols since the beginning of the year, and has contacted 602 residents upon finding garage doors open — a process that led an officer to discovering a car had been taken. Despite working alongside other agencies to identify thieves and file charges, Robbins said criminals keep returning because they are successful in finding unsecured cars.

“We need citizens’ help to make locking their cars and checking that their garage doors are closed a nightly routine,” Robbins said.

Lenexa

Master Police Officer Danny Chavez said the city has had 114 auto thefts from Jan. 1 to Sept. 15, 2020, compared to 55 thefts during the same time period in 2019.

Chavez said the department wants to remind residents not to leave keys in their vehicles, never to leave cars unattended and running unless it has automatic start, and to double-check that garage doors are closed at night.

Merriam

Earlier this month the Merriam Police Department asked for assistance locating a vehicle that was stolen from Shawnee Mission Audi. Photo via Merriam Police Department’s Twitter .

Chief Darren McLaughlin said Merriam has seen an 83% increase year to date in auto thefts. A significant amount of those are related to a group of thieves targeting car dealerships in the Kansas City metropolitan area, he said.

Last week, Merriam police officers arrested two burglary suspects in connection with a stolen vehicle from a used car dealership on Merriam Drive. McLaughlin said the department is working with several agencies to identify those responsible for the thefts.

Mission

Interim Chief Dan Madden said Mission currently has 40 attempted or completed auto thefts in 2020, up from 23 in 2019 during the same time frame. Still, the bigger issue in Mission is items being stolen from cars.

Similar to other cities, Mission police officers find that most auto burglary victims are those with unlocked vehicles. While the department has been able to identify suspects in its recent sprees, Madden said it’s difficult to solve these types of crimes. Additionally, he said prevention is key.

“People can reduce the potential of being victimized by locking their vehicles and removing items of value from their car,” Madden said. “Thieves will get into any unlocked vehicle and rifle through it to see if they find anything of value.”

Overland Park

The city of Overland Park has recorded 605 auto burglaries between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15, 2020. The city saw 628 burglaries in all of 2019.

Public Information Officer John Lacy said the vast majority of the city’s auto burglaries are from unsecured cars, including those that are unlocked or that have windows rolled down. Additionally, the thieves and burglars who have been caught and questioned said they don’t just break any car window, they look inside first to make sure it’s worth it, Lacy said.

That’s why Lacy said the city is restarting its “If I Were a Thief” initiative. Officers on the night shift will look into parked cars, and if a purse, wallet or some item of the value is found, the officer writes what they would have taken if they were a thief and leaves the note on the car.

“If you see something suspicious, say something,” Lacy said. “If you see that care going up and down the street, give us a call or remember the make and model of that vehicle and who it was occupied by. Just be vigilant, know your surroundings.”

Prairie Village

Deputy Chief Byron Roberson said year to date, the city has had more than 60 auto burglaries. This is an increase compared to approximately 55 auto burglaries for all of 2019, he said. Stolen automobiles year to date are at 47, whereas all of 2019 accounted for 32, he said.

“I do not have a good explanation of why these crimes are more prevalent right now, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the economy and [is] COVID related,” Roberson said.

Several steps have been taken to address the issue, Roberson said, including increased evening and overnight patrol, clocking in overtime hours to flatten the curve and using the systems crime data to place officers in higher crime areas. For instance, when there’s more crime along State Line Road, officers will frequent the area looking for auto theft and burglary related activity, he said.

Roeland Park

As the area experiences more thefts, Roeland Park Police Chief John Morris said officers are working hard to put a stop to it with taking reports, conducting canvases and completing follow-up investigations. Roeland Park officers recently caught one burglar at the beginning of September with the help of residents — but Morris said more can be done.

The Roeland Park Police Department is urging residents to get into a regular routine to secure their vehicles. Photo via RPPD Facebook.

Morris and his patrol staff came up with a “Fight Back with Lights On” initiative to deter crime. The thought is if more residents turn on outdoor lights, it will be easier to spot criminal or suspicious activity, he said.

“I ask for all of you, if possible, to turn on an extra light out front of your home in the garage or porch area so officers on patrol and you are able to see more and respond faster with possibly better information on what is seen — and make a difference,” Morris said.

Additionally, Morris said he intends to adjust patrol coverage and crime analysis information to see what more the department can do to deter crime.

Shawnee

Public Information Officer Jim Baker said with 113 auto thefts so far this year, Shawnee’s numbers are up approximately 17%. Vehicles left running or that had keys left inside account for 65 of those thefts, meaning nearly 60% could have been prevented by the owner or person responsible for the car, Baker said.

The department has seen people leaving extra key fobs for newer vehicles inside the glove box or console, which is equivalent to leaving the keys in the ignition for someone to take, Baker said. Additionally, he said six of the auto thefts were taken from inside a garage that had been left open.

While locking cars, not leaving valuables in plain sight and not leaving the keys in the car could have prevented more than half of Shawnee’s auto thefts this year, the department is taking extra steps. Baker said the patrol bureau has made efforts to let homeowners know when their garage doors are open in the middle of the night, and the Community Outreach Relations and Engagement Unity has been pushing crime tips on social media to educate the public.

“We will never know how many other residential burglaries and auto thefts have been prevented by our officers patrolling neighborhoods at night and the information campaign from our CORE Unit,” Baker said.

Westwood

Chief Greg O’Halloran said the city of Westwood has seen a slight increase in auto thefts. Currently, the city is at three auto thefts through August 2020, he said, compared to one in 2019 and two in 2018 for the same time frame.

Similar to that of other chiefs and officers, O’Halloran said the public should lock their cars as criminals have been known to approach a car, find the handle is locked and run off. Between protecting the belongings in your car or the car itself, he said “this sage advice still works best.”

“We love the way our neighbors look out for one another and ask that they continue to do so,” O’Halloran said. “With more and more doorbell cameras available, law enforcement has seen plenty of examples about the single best thing people can do is lock their cars.”