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Feven Getachew
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Car burglaries rampant in Grinnell


By Phillip Kiely

Last month, the Grinnell Police Department (GPD) received fifteen reports of cars being burglarized. This recent rash of thefts has prompted an investigation from the GPD.


“It’s something we take very seriously, we’ve allocated resources to look into it. … We do our best to investigate it and to ultimately find those at fault,” said Officer Joe McMillen, the investigator for the case.

The majority of the cars that were broken into were unlocked and had valuables clearly visible.

“It’s a crime of opportunity. Individuals go out to look for vehicles that are unlocked with valuables in plain view,” McMillen said.

As with most car burglary sprees, the perpetrators have been taking items such as cell phones, cash, electronics and computers, as well as anything else light, valuable and easily visible. Car burglaries are a year round problem, and the number fluctuates.

“We go in spurts. We’ll have, it could be one individual, could be a multitude of individuals, they are successful once so they want to repeat that success,” McMillen said.

Because of the opportunistic nature of the thefts, they tend to happen during warmer months when more people are already outside.

“They’re outside already, and walking down the road, and they see a car that’s unlocked with a laptop in it, … they see that opportunity and take it,” McMillen said.

The recent string has been similar to most. The police responded to fifteen reports and are using the information collected to try to crack the case.

“As with any crime, there’s always an investigation and each investigation is pretty unique unto itself,” McMillen said.

One thing that is consistent about all investigations is that public assistance is essential to solving the case. Reports of all break-ins, reports of suspicious behavior and preservation of evidence are all vital to building a profile of the perpetrator.

“It all depends on the public’s assistance,” McMillen said, “[if] you’ve been the victim of a burglary from your vehicle or a theft from your vehicle, don’t touch the scene, don’t disturb it and call law enforcement right away.”

There is a lot that people can do to protect their property from burglary. Parking in lit areas, locking cars and removing valuables all significantly reduce the risk of a burglary.

“The most important thing, that if people did would probably end [burglaries from cars] overnight, is to lock their cars and remove their valuables,” McMillen said.

The appeal of car burglary is its easiness relative to other crimes.

“People go in, it’s quick, easy in easy out, and they get maybe 500 dollars worth of valuables in any given night,” said McMillen.

However, the penalties are severe. Entering a car with the intent to deprive the owner of property is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison. If over a thousand dollars is stolen, the crime becomes a felony. Additional charges apply if the perpetrator damages the car, and as many thieves commit the same crime multiple times, the charges stack.

“You could face multiple charges, each time, in fact, you enter a vehicle would be a car burglary,” McMillen said.

Likely, multiple sentences would be served concurrently. However, for that to happen, the perpetrator must be apprehended. Because thieves often burglarize multiple cars, evidence from one report can solve multiple.

“We might have evidence in one vehicle that might solve all of them,” McMillen said. “There may be evidence in the vehicle whether it is fingerprints … [or] other physical evidence that’s left behind that once it’s disturbed we lose it forever.”

It is also important to report the crime.

“Crime overall is underreported,” said McMillen said.

Between public assistance and police investigation, the perpetrator or perpetrators may be apprehended soon. If not, colder weather should slow burglaries from cars as there will be less people out on the streets.

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