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Burglars target cars in search of quick cash

Authorities say car break-ins are on the rise, in particular cars parked at stores, restaurants and office buildings.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002


SOUTH TAMPA -- They strike in the afternoons and evenings, when people are shopping or eating out. They look for cars in crowded parking lots with laptops and purses in plain view.

They run if someone spots them.

They are apt auto burglars looking for quick cash.

Police say reports of car break-ins in South Tampa have gone up in the past two or three months. Many have occurred in store and restaurant parking lots along Dale Mabry Highway, West Shore and Kennedy boulevards.

Detectives don't keep exact figures, but one who works the area said "my folder is pretty thick" this month.

"It's a never-ending story out there, . . . but recently we've had a rash of auto burglaries," said Detective Roberto Batista. "It's pretty active."

Batista blames the increase on the time of the year, when Tampa is loaded with tourists and business travelers. More people mean more crimes.

Police suspect several burglars or groups are responsible. Some may be drug users or transients waiting to head North after the spring thaw. Typically, they aren't violent.

"They're just thieves," Batista said. "They want to steal and make a few dollars."

Authorities have made a few arrests, but admit that catching the offenders is difficult. By the time victims return to their vehicles, the vandals are long gone.

The crooks routinely break into cars parked at stores, restaurants and office buildings. They look for valuables they can sell on the streets for cash or drugs, such as computers, portable CD players and clothing. They get in by smashing a window or prying it open.

Police records compiled weekly for the St. Petersburg Times showed 171 auto burglaries in the last six weeks in the 33607 and 33609 ZIP codes, near Kennedy and Interstate 275. That's an average of about 28 a week.

Debra Flores, an employee at Eddie's Custom Cleaners on Kennedy, said burglars tried twice in the past few weeks to get into her car and a co-worker's. Both times, alarms sounded and they ran off empty-handed.

"We're keeping our eyes out," she said.

Police advise people to keep valuables in their trunk and lock their car doors, even if they will be gone for only a few minutes. Devices such as the Club also deter potential thieves.

"A lot of these are crimes of opportunity," Batista said. "If you make it tougher for them, they'll go somewhere else."

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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