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Thefts from motor vehicles

County — Motor vehicle thefts reported —— Motor vehicle thefts cleared
Bledsoe County Sheriff's Office — 2 — 0
Bradley County Sheriff's Office — 129 — 25
Dekalb County Sheriff's Office — 25 — 5
Marion County Sheriff's Office — 35 — 3
McMinn County Sheriff's Office — 35 — 2
Meigs County Sheriff's Office — 12 — 1
Monroe County Sheriff's Office — 37 — 5
Polk County Sheriff's Office — 18 — 3
Rhea County Sheriff's Office — 13 — 1
Athens Police Department — 130 — 13
Calhoun Police Department — 2 — 0
Chattanooga Police Department — 2,017 — 43
Cleveland Police Department — 312 — 21
Collegedale Police Department — 18 — 1
East Ridge Police Department — 203 — 13
Lookout Mountain Police Department— 6 — 0
Pikeville Police Department — 3 — 0
Red Bank Police Department — 67 — 5
Signal Mountain Police Department — 10 — 2
Soddy-Daisy Police Department — 39 — 8
South Pittsburg Police Department — 5 — 0
Source: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime in Tennessee, 2014

Ninety-eight percent of thefts from cars in Chattanooga went unsolved in 2014, according to data compiled by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Chattanooga police cleared just 43 of 2,017 reported cases of theft from a motor vehicle last year — about 2 percent. In the same time frame, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office cleared 29 of 307 cases for about a 9 percent clearance rate.

Those numbers are not unusual — statewide, only about 8 percent of reported car break-ins were cleared in 2014, according to new data from the TBI. Cases are usually considered cleared when a suspect is arrested.

"It's an easy and fast crime to commit," police Chief Fred Fletcher said. "Someone can walk up to a car, break in, steal something and walk away in a matter of seconds."

Clearance rates in the region vary depending on the agency's size and case load. Cleveland police solved about 7 percent — 21 of 312 — of theft from motor vehicle cases. The Marion County Sheriff's Office solved 3 of 35 cases, about 8 percent, and the Bradley County Sheriff's Office solved 25 of 129 — about 19 percent.

Police almost have to catch a thief in the act, Fletcher said, because it's often difficult or impossible to trace the stolen goods, and suspects often don't leave evidence in the vehicle.

"It's hard to catch [the suspects] after the fact," he said. "The type of property being stolen from cars is very difficult to trace, even when people do document their stuff. A CD can still sell at a used CD store for a dollar. So if you leave 10 CDs on your visor it's like leaving $10 up there. And there are people who will burglarize your car for $10."

Because cases are difficult to solve, police try to instead emphasize ways residents can prevent thefts from cars.

"We'd much rather prevent a crime than have to solve it," Fletcher said.

Everything from parking under a light to hiding valuables out of sight can help deter a thief. One woman found that out firsthand on Saturday morning when she got up to get a glass of water around 5 a.m. and discovered a man prowling around in her downtown yard.

Footage from the security cameras on her house shows the man poking around until he triggered the home's motion-sensor floodlights. Then he quickly walks away. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she thinks the light scared the man away.

In addition to prevention, Chattanooga police are restarting a property crime task force that previously done work in 2009, Fletcher said. In 10 months, the task force cleared 200 of 1,000 property crimes, he said.

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Tennessee report on statewide crime

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The new iteration of the task force will focus on crimes that otherwise would not get the full attention of police, said Lt. Jerome Halbert, who heads CPD's property crime division.

"We started to realize there were certain crimes that were falling through the cracks," he said. "They were too big and had too much legwork for patrol, but they didn't quite meet investigations' standards. So we came up with a program to attack those."

Fletcher said the task force will identify the people who are most likely to commit property crimes and then track them.

"If you have 100 burglaries, there are probably two or three people responsible for 60 or 70 percent of them," Fletcher said. "So going out and putting a bunch of cops in a neighborhood to try to stumble in to someone committing a crime is not the highest and best use of limited resources."

The Athens Police Department and the Monroe, McMinn and Hamilton county sheriff's offices did not return requests for comment on this story. The Sequatchie County Sheriff's Office declined to comment.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury at timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

CAR break-in PREVENTION TIPS

* Don't leave valuables in plain sight in your vehicle
* Place items out of sight before reaching your destination
* Etch your driver's license number on all removable valuables, like audio equipment
* Avoid leaving packages or shopping bags out in the open
* Lock all your vehicle's doors
* Park in busy, well-lighted areas
* Don't leave spare keys in your vehicle, even if they're hidden
* Call police immediately after a theft
* Keep a record of the car VIN number, license plate number and insurance information somewhere outside the car
Source: Chattanooga Police Department

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