Suspect arrested for Catoosa County car break-ins, police say auto theft is 'going up'

Contributed photo by the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office / This image from security camera footage helped police identify and arrest Thomas Christopher Mann for a series of auto break-ins.

A man suspected in five car break-ins that occurred on Peachtree Circle in Catoosa County has been arrested and identified as Thomas Christopher Mann.

Capt. Jeremy Keener with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office said similar crimes have been on the rise in the area in the past year.

According to Keener, who works in the criminal investigations unit, five residents in the Peachtree Circle area reported their cars were broken into and items had been stolen Tuesday evening. Some of the items listed as missing included a pair of women's sunglasses and other personal belongings, as well as checks and identification cards.

An investigation was opened right away, and security footage capturing the crime was obtained. At that point, Keener said the sheriff's office decided to share the image to Facebook to see if anyone could identify the man in the clip.

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"We got a couple of different suspects, and he was one of them," Keener said. "When we compared the pictures of him to what we had, he became our prime suspect."

Mann was later found after a detective pulled over a car in which he happened to be the passenger, Keener said. The investigation continued from there, and police soon found several of the missing items in Mann's possession. Keener also said Mann appeared to be dressed in the same clothing the suspect wore in the footage of the crime. He was arrested Thursday.

"He looked exactly the same as in the video we have, except he didn't have the hoodie on this time," Keener said.

All of the cars that were hit were unlocked at the time of the crime. Keener said more often than not, that is the case with car break-ins. So many people leave their vehicles unlocked now that breaking into locked vehicles is more of a hassle than most criminals want to deal with, he said

"We watch footage back on video systems and you can see that people will skip locked cars," he said. "They want easy targets they can hit and get in and get out without being seen. I can't remember the last time I saw someone smash a window to steal a car."

While Keener said he did not have the exact numbers available during his phone call with the Times Free Press on Friday, he said he knew they were "going up" in Catoosa County.

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"I don't have our exact numbers in front of me right now, but car break-ins are something we always deal with," he said. "They seem to be going up, how often we have them."

The same thing is true in Chattanooga.

Earlier this year the Times Free Press reported that the number of auto thefts and burglaries from autos from January to July of 2021 was 40% greater than the same period in 2019, and, just like in Catoosa County, many of those break-ins involved unlocked vehicles.

A review of Chattanooga stolen vehicle reports from July 2021 shows 45 out of 123 of the vehicles taken, or 37%, were easy targets because the keys were either left inside the vehicle or nearby. Of the 45 vehicles with stolen keys inside, five of those vehicles were also left running.

Keener said he wasn't surprised to hear running vehicles had been stolen in the city. It isn't uncommon in Catoosa County either, especially in the winter months when people will often crank their cars and leave them on to heat up while they go back inside their homes.

"If you let your car run in the mornings to heat up, stay with it. Don't just leave the keys and go back inside. People can take your car in two seconds and be gone. We've seen that happen," he said.

Keener also said firearms should always be taken inside, as well as electronics or other valuables people will recognize as being worth money.

In Gordon County, another North Georgia community not far from Catoosa, the sheriff's office has actually seen a decrease this year in the number of auto thefts. Gordon County Chief Deputy Robert Paris said that while car break-ins are still a problem, there have only been 32 so far this year as compared to 65 in 2020. Like Keener, Paris said it was important to take anything of value inside at the end of the day.

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"I can't stress enough how important it is to lock your car doors and to take in anything of value," he said. "Don't leave that stuff in the car."

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson and Ringgold Police Chief Jennifer Jones did not respond to calls related to this story on Friday.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfree or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.