JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo (KMOV.com) -- Festus police are fighting a losing battle fueld by what they say is the neglect of gun owners.
Numerous guns are in the hands of criminals all because they were left in unlocked cars.
Authorities say some suspects spend an evening just going through neighborhoods checking for unlocked cars and trucks.
“It’s become a huge public safety factor,” said Captain Don Lassing. “We don’t know, we don’t know where the guns are going. There are some cases where we’ve made arrests and recovered some of these guns, but not a whole lot.”
Lassing says three guns have been stolen out of cars or trucks in the past two weeks, and more than a dozen have been stolen in 2012.
“15 different reports of handguns stolen from vehicle,” he said. “That’s a lot.”
Two weeks ago, police checked out reports of three suspects trying to break into cars on Cypress Lane. By the time officers arrived, the suspects were gone.
A short time later, authorities arrested two teenagers said to be breaking into cars on nearby Edgewood lane. Police recovered handguns, a rifle and ammunition in the arrest.
The fear for police is they’re not sure where the stolen guns are ending up. They could be heading to the streets of St. Louis, where they go for top dollar.
Another officer says guns are commonly traded for drugs, or could end up out-of-state.
Most of the stolen weapons are handguns, but there have been several rifles as well.
All the break-ins have been from cars or trucks parked in driveways or on the street in front of the house, not from public parking lots.
“It used to be they would steal GPS units, ipods, computers or items people would leave in vehicle overnight,” Lassing said. “But now we’re experiencing where people are leaving their weapons and they’re being stolen.”
Police say while the majority of the stolen guns have come from unlocked cars other victims have told police they did lock their cars.
But when police investigate they find no sign of a forced entry, leading them to believe that the car or truck was left unlocked.