Chattanooga: Shattering the law

Chattanooga: Shattering the law

March 14th, 2009 by Jacqueline Koch in Local Regional News

When thieves smashed a window and found a phone charger tucked away in Kara Miscio's Honda Pilot, they broke into her husband's Nissan pickup thinking they'd find more loot.

They did.

Staff Photo Tim Barber The wife of Miguel Policarpio covers the window of their Saturn car window after "black guys" broke it to steal in the yard of the Clio Ave. home in East Lake.

In all, the smashed windows, stolen goods and screwdriver damage to the car door cost about $2,500, though insurance covered all but the deductible, Mrs. Miscio said.

In Chattanooga, statistics show one crime occurs fairly consistently from the North Shore to St. Elmo to Highland Park, Hixson and the Hamilton Place mall area - thefts from cars.

The Miscios' vehicles weren't the only ones hit on Hillcrest Avenue in Brainerd that night.

"Our other neighbor, his window was broken out, too," Mrs. Miscio said, adding that many neighbors had items stolen. "They hit our street pretty good that night."

Chattanooga police say thefts from cars always have been a problem, but they have increased in the last few years, from 2,162 in 2006 to 2,430 in 2008. Across the state, thefts from motor vehicles have remained steady, but Tennessee Bureau of Investigation data also shows an increase in the crimes in Chattanooga since 2006.

"It's in the areas where we have a large saturation of cars being parked around hotels, around Hamilton Place, in the parking areas downtown," said Assistant Chief Mike Williams, who oversees the uniformed services division.

To combat the problems, police have used a bait car, set up surveillance and assigned extra officers to patrol known problem areas, he said. But catching the culprits is tricky, he said.

"They're so quick," Chief Williams said. "They just knock the window out, grab it and they're gone."

Thieves tend to target one area of town for a while before moving to the next, said Sgt. Phil Headden, an evening shift supervisor over the department's Delta team in the Brainerd area. He's seen apartment complexes and residential streets targeted recently.

The police department's Delta team has worked the second highest number of car break-ins in the city with 92 this year to date. Only George team, which covers the Highway 58, East Brainerd and Ooltewah areas, has more with 110 this year, according to department statistics. George team topped 2008's list of most thefts with 604. Alpha team, which covers the Chickamauga Dam, Thrasher Pike and Moccasin Bend Road areas, was second with 528.

Sgt. Headden advises people to keep their valuables out of sight or, better yet, out of the vehicle.

"The only thing that's between them and your stuff is a piece of glass," Sgt. Headden said. "A lot of times if you've got tinted windows, they will break them to see what you have."

Eulalia Tomas, whose car window was smashed recently at her East Lake home, has not yet replaced the window and instead covers it with plastic to keep rain out.

The Tennessee Riverpark sees spurts of break-ins, usually committed by thieves who watch people get out of their vehicles without purses, Chief Park Ranger Fred Fuson said.

Thieves then immediately look through those vehicles' windows or smash them in hopes of finding items left behind. Mr. Fuson said joggers, walkers and parkgoers should take wallets, purses and valuable items with them and store them in small pouches if necessary.

"(People) need to be encouraged to use safety and a little common sense," he said, adding that ranger patrols also help deter theft. "These thieves are smart. They know what to look for. They know where to look."