Does this sound familiar? You park your car, hide or take your valuables with you, lock your car and go out for the night only to come back to shattered glass and a cold ride home. Well, it happened to me downtown earlier this year. While the would-be thieves found nothing to take, I was still stuck paying my deductible to replace by broken window.
Once the number of car break-ins spiked more than 10 percent in 2009, police and city hall started putting their heads together to crack down on the city's most persistent problem.
This morning, they'll announce a fresh initiative called "Park Smart" to beef up police patrols, increase punishment for criminals, and educate the public on the problem and how to avoid a break-in.
Chances are if you visit the city, you are a target. The three most often-hit areas are downtown, the Central West End and Forest Park. Those also happen to be the most-visited places for sports, shopping and dining. Just last week, 40 cars in the West End were hit in one night.
Thieves looking for a quick score have countless easy targets as cars line the street. The criminals also have a low risk of getting caught because they're so quick, and if they are apprehended, police say the laws aren't strong enough to keep them behind bars. It's a hard crime to crack. Police either have to catch them in the act be able to trace recovered stolen goods back to their owners. The only valid way to do that is if you record the serial number on your electronics.
Just moments before my morning live shot in the Central West End this morning, a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer started driving by. He circled back around to ask what story I was covering for the day. We got to talking about it, and the officer told me he often feels like his hands are tied. He says crews of criminals will drive up and down the city north and south, working east to west. He says they stop when they see a string of cars, jump out, smash out the vehicles' windows, steal whatever they can get their hands on, and jump back in the car -- often undetected until it's too late. And sometimes seeing it in action isn't enough after all. He says one of his fellow officers recently witnessed smash and grabs, but couldn't do anything about it because police aren't allowed to pursue suspects for a property crime. In the grand scheme of things, property crimes are petty. But, that could change today.
The mayor's top lawyer has been drafting legislation to give the city greater authority to go after car break-in culprits. Ideally, police will be able to keep a closer eye on offenders and make sure they serve at least a short sentence behind bars.
The announcement comes at 10 a.m. at city hall.
Meanwhile, police remind you to never leave anything valuable in your car. And, it might sound counter-intuitive, but police say leave your doors unlocked if there's nothing to take. That way, it might save you the headache of having to pay to replace a shattered window. The officer who stopped by this morning says it's a good idea, but that sometimes crooks work so quickly -- using a bag of rocks or a screwdriver to break in -- that they don't check to see if they can get in easily. Aggravating, huh?