So far, the Hattiesburg Police Department has recorded 454 auto burglaries this year in the Hub City.
An auto burglary is considered a “Part 1 Offense,” and it’s one thing the police department is setting their sights on reducing.
“Any citizen of Hattiesburg should be able to go to the actual local shopping center and go there and not have to worry about their vehicle getting broken in to," said Hattiesburg Police Department Capt. Branden McLemore. "Or coming back out of that shopping center and their vehicle not even being there.”
July 2017 saw the most auto burglaries in one month, with 60 being reported in. Going through the data for auto burglaries in Hattiesburg reveals that the majority of them have one thing in common.
“We have about 95 percent of those auto burglaries that are unlocked vehicles,” McLemore said.
WDAM 7 on Your Side asked a few random shoppers in the Hub City if they locked their car doors when they made their way to stores.
“Because I don’t want someone to steal something out of my car, it’s holiday time,” said one shopper.
“Because it’s something that I always do,” said another. One after another, the shoppers followed suit.
“Because I don’t want no one to break into it,” another said.
“Because I have valuables in there and I don’t want anybody to take anything out of it,” said another.
One thing McLemore said draws criminals in, and making a vehicle an easy target, is merchandise left in a car or items in plain sight.
“Now we have the Christmas season, holiday season, and that crime of opportunity is there,” McLemore said.
During the holiday shopping season, HPD adds additional patrols and puts officers through the shopping centers in the city.
“We increase that officer presence," McLemore said. "We basically try to make sure that there is someone there so a criminal will not take that opportunity of taking advantage of an elderly person or taking advantage of someone walking from shopping center to shopping center."
Another issue that law enforcement officers are running into with auto burglaries is that some of the items being stolen are dangerous, such as guns.
"They end up leaving it in a vehicle that's unlocked, well what you're turning around and doing is you're putting that gun on the street in a criminal's hand," McLemore said. "When these people go out and they break into a vehicle and they steal that weapon, you have now given a criminal a weapon on the street, to utilize in that actual crime."
Hattiesburg police have started using technology to help them catch criminals.
“We have now actually started using a little technology, that technology is by utilizing a bait car,” McLemore said.
The bait car, which can be any type of vehicle or any number of vehicles, can be placed at any location.
“That bait car helps us with grand larceny autos and it helps us with auto burglaries,” McLemore said. “What we will particularly do is, basically if we’re having an influx in crime, such as an apartment complex or at a residential community, a different neighborhood, we’ll deploy that actual bait car and we are basically looking for targeting any specific criminal that might be stealing a vehicle or stealing valuables inside that vehicle.”
So far, in 2017 there have been 84 vehicles reported stolen in the Hub City, and the majority of them have the keys in left in them, or have been left running and unattended.
“The good thing about it is, the criminal never knows when they’re getting inside that vehicle if it’s really going to be a victim or if it’s going to be a bait car and if police are on the other side of that,” McLemore said.
McLemore said the main thing people can do is lock their vehicle doors, and if you see something suspicious, report it. You can call Hattiesburg Police or Metro Crime Stoppers at 601-582-STOP.