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Police searching for woman spotted walking into open garage, stealing property

St. Johns County Sheriff's Office reminds people to always close and lock their doors after a woman allegedly cased a neighborhood and burglarized a home.
Credit: JUN2 / Thinkstock

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — As of Tuesday evening, law enforcement in St. Johns County were still looking for a woman whom police say stole a chainsaw from the garage of a home in the St. Johns Golf & Country Club community.

“Fortunately, in this case, we have video surveillance, we have a good image of the license plate,” St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan said, calling the incident a crime of opportunity. “This individual pulls in in a dark, older model Lincoln-type town car. She gets out and walks down the street until she comes to a residence that has an open garage door.”

It also appeared, in one surveillance photo, that the suspect was wearing some kind of work uniform, such as medical scrubs, and that she was carrying an electronic device.

“It’s very possible that they were … walking with a garage door opener and were trying to open garage doors,” Mulligan said.

Others in the neighborhood had also speculated that the device might have been intended to somehow jam doorbell cameras and other home surveillance equipment. First Coast News spoke with Jacksonville-based security technology consultant Chris Hamer, who clarified that “the electronic doorbells are very difficult to jam simply because they utilize the standard wireless WiFi connection, which is encrypted and requires authentication.”

Hamer, who served as an electronics technician and currently addresses cybersecurity needs for private clients, said garage door openers are much more vulnerable to being decoded.

“With the older garage doors, the number of combinations are limited and the frequency range is much lower.”

I asked Hamer what people should seek to make sure a remote-controlled garage door opener is secure.

“You want ones that use rolling code, either digital technology or encryption or use a code that you can set that’s greater than three numbers,” he said.

But in the burglary Monday in the St. Johns Golf & Country Club community, none of that would have helped: the garage door was wide open.

“Five, six seconds, I have gone in your garage and I’ve taken what I want,” Mulligan envisioned the scenario.

Mulligan, who has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement, urged that, even with a sophisticated garage door opener, it’s best to disengage the opener and lock your garage door using the interior hardware – usually a hand-turned bar that secures the door to the frame – if leaving your home unattended for extended periods such as vacations.

Mulligan suggested that if everyone kept doors closed and locked, crimes like what happened Monday might be reduced as much as 70 percent.

“Door locks are so incredibly important to prevent so many crimes of opportunity,” he said.

He went on to urge that doors be kept locked even when people are at home, asserting that even if an intruder has only gotten as far as the garage, they are effectively a danger to anyone and anything inside the house.

“There are two very important times that you need to use the locks that you have, and that’s when you’re inside that structure, and when you’re outside that structure,” he summed it up.