PONTE VEDRA, Fla. - It’s a lesson taught, police say, but never learned: lock your car at night.
“You shouldn’t be surprised if someone chooses your street on that particular night to come through and check door handles, that your property’s probably going to be missing,” St. Johns County officer Chuck Mulligan told First Coast News on Wednesday.
SJSO has received several reports of car break-ins and thefts since Friday; some in Ponte Vedra, others in southern St. Augustine.
“I guess maybe it’s easier than I thought it was to do,” said Stacie Disbennett of Ponte Vedra. She and her husband woke up Monday morning to learn that someone had broken into their truck, which had been left unlocked in their driveway at the end of South Mill View Way, a cul-de-sac.
“Incredibly surprised,” she said. “We leave our vehicles unlocked, maybe not anymore."
Stacie and her husband Lee know they got off easy.
“Nothing had been taken, but things had been shuffled around a little bit,” she said. She said their neighbor across the way had their car stolen outright the same night.
“You shouldn’t have to be worried about things like this, but like you said, low-hanging fruit,”she said, referring to the doors left unlocked.
The theft across the way wasn’t even the worst, as Mulligan described a trifecta of damage at one home.
“[Two nights ago] we had one resident who left the keys in his car, unlocked,” Mulligan said. “So that car was stolen. The car next to it in the same driveway had been burglarized and property taken from it. And while they left the driveway they crashed into another vehicle in his driveway.”
Mulligan said what appears to be a rash of break-ins is more of a constant itch for law enforcement, pointing out that unlike phone scams and other crimes that tend to peak during the holiday season, car thieves don’t care what time of year it is. And they’re opportunistic knowing that the law of numbers helps them break the law with ease.
“[Thieves and burglars] many times will just walk up, try doors, and find 10 or 15 cars on one street," he said. "And that’s a good take for them for one night, or maybe a whole week’s worth of work.”
Mulligan said the motives and targets vary to kids just getting kicks, drug addicts funding their cravings, valuables, and firearms to be used in other crimes. He said no matter the case, everyone suffers.
“Not only the person who is the direct victim but to all of us because it affects all of our insurance rates,” he said.
As an apparent case in point, Stacie Disbennett said she hadn’t had any problem in the last three years, two of which she has lived at her current address. Nevertheless, her premiums have increased.
“That’s why you do have insurance, but insurance rates aren’t ever going to go down," she said.
Mulligan added that even if thieves don’t steal any concrete items, they can steal information about you from what they find.
“Then certainly you can become a victim of identity theft, which could go on for years as that information is sold on the black web,” he cautioned. “It creates a lot of headaches for you, when all you simply have to do is remove the keys and push that little key fob button.”