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Auto burglaries still on the rise in St. Pete

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg Police are asking residents to be vigilant in making sure their cars are locked at all times.

According to the department, Florida is second in the nation for auto thefts and St. Pete is in the midst of an alarming rise in auto thefts and burglaries.

During the month of May there were 455 auto burglaries. During that same month last year there were only 291.

Police say young residents are traveling through neighborhoods checking door handles at random. Unlocked doors present an easy opportunity to nab even just spare change.

“When they do find that they are unlocked they look for miscellaneous items,” said St. Pete Police Major Cheryl Johnson during a press conference Wednesday morning. “They also look for the key fobs or valet keys to go ahead and take the vehicles. It is incumbent upon us to remind citizens to secure your vehicles.”

Police are sending out notices in residents’ water bills issuing that same warning.

The department posted a video compilation of surveillance footage showing five attempted or successful auto burglaries. Two of the videos catch thieves opening uplocked doors to cars in broad daylight. One is a vehicle parked along a street. A driver exits one car, opens the door to the parked car, gets in and closes the door. He then emerges seconds later and gets back into the original car, which then speeds away.

The other broad daylight burglary occurred in a parking lot where a group of young-looking individuals enter a car parked in a handicap space. They get out, again, just seconds later and run away.

Neither car appeared to have been locked.

One of the burglaries shows thieves attempting to break into two cars parked in one driveway. One car is unlocked and burglarized. The other appears to be locked as a suspect approaches the door, tries it and then walks away.

The video also suggests motion detector lights could be a good theft deterrent in driveways. One of the incidents captured on film shows a group of men walking quickly up a driveway toward vehicles when a light comes on. The group quickly bolts from the property before breaking into any of the cars.

Police are asking for tips from any residents who may recognize suspects in that video posted on the St. Pete PD Facebook page.

July is also auto theft prevention month.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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