Urbana police see increase in car burglaries

By Brittney Nadler

The Urbana Police Department is advising residents to keep their cars locked after a sharp increase in burglaries this year, Urbana police Lt. Robert Fitzgerald said.

Urbana car burglaries have increased from 121 in 2012 to 196 so far this year, Fitzgerald said. Of the last 36 burglaries reported, every car was left unlocked, allowing easy access for thieves.

During this time of year, the Urbana Police Department sees a spike in car theft due to the holiday season. 

“People are opportunistic,” Fitzgerald said. “So people are going around searching car doors and … opening up stuff, looking for loose change, taking things out, especially when you get close to the holiday season. People leave stuff wrapped in the back … so people are looking for that.”

Potential robbers are aware that college students are leaving items in cars on campus, especially when they are moving home for the holiday break. 

“We’re asking people if they see people loitering in their neighborhood late at night to give us a call, not to approach them, but to call us,” Fitzgerald said. “The officers are going to be out there. We want to identify these people to make sure they’re not up to no good.” 

The Urbana police have put extra patrols in southeast Urbana and the areas that have been hit heaviest, Fitzgerald said. He sent emails to several neighborhood watches and other groups to remind residents to keep car doors locked, windows rolled up and garage doors closed.

“In one of the details we did last week, an officer went out and found several garage doors open and went to talk to the people,” he said. “Then we put out a blast message to these groups saying, ‘Hey, don’t leave your garages open overnight.’ So we’re being proactive. This is not just a southeast Urbana problem, this is a county-wide problem.” 

Urbana police are also enforcing a “Lock It or Lose It” campaign to encourage residents to lock their car doors. Officers put flyers on car windshields and hand out pamphlets as they pass people to remind residents of possible car burglaries. 

Brett Enghausen, vice president of Hanson’s Auto Repair in Urbana, said he has not seen an increase in burglary repairs because burglars haven’t had to actually break into vehicles. 

“The downside to a locked vehicle is if (burglars) want to get in there, they will break something,” Enghausen said. “Alarm systems are handy as a deterrent.” 

He said the cost at Hanson’s Auto Repair for replacing a broken window could be $100 to $200 depending on the vehicle, with an additional $100 for installation. A broken side-view mirror could cost between $50 and $150, along with an $80 labor cost for the hour it takes to install the part. 

Kathy Wallig, a long-time Urbana resident and member of the Southeast Urbana Neighborhood Association, subscribes to daily crime reports from crimereports.com to stay updated with the crime in her area, especially since her daughter-in-law’s car was robbed.

“My daughter-in-law was parked in my driveway for less than five minutes,” Wallig said. “She came inside to pick up my grandkids. Less than five minutes, she got out to the car and her purse was gone.”

Wallig said she lives on a “quiet, secluded” street that sees few pedestrians, leading her to believe that whoever stole her daughter-in-law’s purse lives nearby. 

“Every single one of those cars (robbed) has been unlocked — they’re crimes of opportunity,” Wallig said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to steal stuff out of a car, especially an unlocked car, and, if it’s there, it’s just an open invitation to everybody.”

Wallig has noticed the efforts from the Urbana police and has informed her neighborhood about them through the neighborhood association’s Listserv and Facebook page.

“If things are stolen from their cars and their cars are unlocked, obviously the person who stole it is the first person you want to condemn for that, but the police can’t be everywhere, every single minute keeping their eye on something that really is an individual’s responsibility to take care of,” she said. 

The Urbana police are holding a community meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 2200 S. Philo Road. The meeting will educate residents on vehicle safety and vandalism, Fitzgerald said. 

“We want to live in a nice, quiet, crime-free area, I think that’s everybody’s desire, but people are people,” Wallig said. “There’s good people, there’s bad people. That’s just the way it is. Life happens. So do what you need to do.”

Brittney can be reached at [email protected]