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[February 28, 2014]
Orlando Sentinel Beth Kassab column [Orlando Sentinel :: ]
(Orlando Sentinel (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 01--Would you leave your iPhone and laptop sitting in your driveway overnight? What about your drivers license and credit cards? The crooks don't have to ask.
They know you do it all the time.
If you don't think so, ask yourself this: Have you ever left your car unlocked? Maybe for a few minutes while you run into the store or into the day-care center? Even overnight in your own driveway? An unlocked car door is the criminal equivalent of Christmas morning.
And thieves are celebrating all over Central Florida's suburbs.
Since the start of the year, there have been hundreds of car burglaries from Oviedo to Kissimmee and Avalon Park to Ocoee.
It's gotten so bad that police in Oviedo and Orlando have taken to using flashing roadside signs imploring people to "Lock your vehicles!" and "Don't leave valuables inside!" Maybe next we'll have signs reminding us, "Use windshield wipers in the rain!" and "Turn on your headlights at night!" That's how absurd this has gotten.
Everyone knows Florida has its share of stupid criminals. But the rash of car burglaries shows we have plenty of not-so-bright victims.
"In all of our cases, the vehicles were unlocked," said Oviedo police Chief Jeffrey Chudnow. "I'd say 85 to 90 percent of all auto burglaries are unlocked vehicles." There were 71 car burglaries in Oviedo during all of last year.
This year in January and February alone there were 80. Sixty-nine of those -- all unlocked cars -- appear to be the work of a loosely connected group of acquaintances who police said also hit other areas in east Seminole and Orange counties such as Winter Springs and Avalon Park.
In Winter Springs the burglars found nine cars unlocked on a single night in January. In two of those cases, the crooks decided to swipe the whole car after finding a set of keys left in the ignition of one car overnight and keys for another under the driver's seat.
"It's just too easy for people like this not to try it," said Winter Springs police Chief Kevin Brunelle.
At least one car was stolen in Oviedo. That car was locked, Chudnow said. But the thieves found the keys to it in another unlocked car in the same driveway.
Police arrested one man who they said is responsible for some of the 69 burglaries, and they are working on cases against six others.
In Ocoee, in west Orange County, police think a different group was responsible for 18 car burglaries one night in February. On the next night, police were ready and caught and arrested two men as they attempted a 19th burglary.
All of those cars except one were unlocked, said Ocoee Detective Sgt. Brian Satterlee.
"We call them door jigglers," he said. "They just walk around checking for unlocked cars." Such effortless targets are all too common.
Kind of like the people who set their passwords to "12345" and are surprised when they get hacked.
Or the family that puts leftover blueberry pie in an unlocked garbage can and is shocked the next morning to find a bear had wandered over and helped himself.
Chudnow said he'll never forget a case from a while back when a guy parked his convertible at the Oviedo Mall and left the top down with his laptop on the front seat while he went inside. He was stunned to find the laptop missing when he returned.
"People feel safe and become complacent," he said. "Unfortunately, we always have people looking for the easy mark." And it's not just the 'burbs that have this problem.
In Orlando, police officers have started going house to house to check for unlocked cars and knock on doors to alert owners.
On a recent afternoon in College Park, on a single block, one officer reported finding six unlocked cars that had phones, GPS devices or other valuables clearly visible.
Like honey to a bear, that kind of bait often leads to a mess.
Only stolen credit cards and computers are a lot harder to clean up after than a few toppled garbage cans.
firstname.lastname@example.org ___ (c)2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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