By Molly Priddy, 2-07-12
After a rash of vehicle break-ins resulting in the thefts of thousands of dollars of belongings, law enforcement authorities throughout Flathead County are encouraging residents to lock their doors at all times.
On Jan. 30, the Kalispell Police Department reported at least 30 incidents during which vehicles were entered and items were stolen. The thefts took place over a couple days.
According to Lt. Wade Rademacher, break-ins of this sort used to happen in concentrated areas in Kalispell, such as on the east side or west side of town. The latest flurry occurred all over, he said, adding to the already difficult task of catching thieves in the act.
“They are hitting every area in the city,” Rademacher said.
None of the cars were locked, Rademacher said, but the incidents happened in broad daylight as well as in the cover of night. The thieves also seem to be targeting cars in major parking lots, testing which doors are locked.
Then, they slip into the unlocked vehicles as if they are the owner, Rademacher said, making it difficult for police to determine suspicious activity. This also happened at residences.
Though there were no broken windows this time around, Rademacher said it has become an unfortunate trend in the Flathead as of late.
“Probably up until two years ago, nobody broke windows,” he said. “Here recently, this past summer, fall and now, there is so much of it.”
Rademacher advised residents to keep their vehicle doors locked at all times, and to remove valuables from the car, or at least from sight. Breaking a window adds risk to a theft, he said, and people won’t likely do it unless there is an obvious reward.
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said the county typically sees thefts correlating to the cities’ rates, and lately they have been on the rise.
“We’ve certainly seen a higher number across the board of thefts from vehicles,” Curry said.
The sheriff said his officers have made arrests in these cases in the past couple of weeks, but that won’t likely quell the problem in the future. Owners need to lock their doors, he said.
In Whitefish, Police Chief Bill Dial said thefts from vehicles have been down – “knock on wood,” he said – though last fall police did bust two different groups allegedly responsible for multiple thefts.
While they have had a regular number of vehicle break-ins, Dial said there has not been a rash of them like there has been in Kalispell.
“We’ve been very proactive on our neighborhood patrols,” he said.
Columbia Falls Police Chief David Perry said thefts from vehicles have fallen into a certain pattern in his town. There will be a significant number of thefts one night, followed by several weeks of no activity.
The nights that thieves do hit, though, are costly. Perry estimated “a few thousand dollars worth of stuff” taken from recent thefts.
“When they do hit us, they get us pretty good,” Perry said.
Police asked anyone who observes suspicious activity to call 911 immediately, and to keep an eye on the person as long as possible without confronting them or letting them know the cops have been called.
Rademacher said officers will attempt to apprehend those responsible for the thefts, and will step up efforts to protect local residents and their belongings.
“We are definitely focusing our concentration on this issue,” he said.
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