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HPD: Auto burglaries up, many due to unlocked vehicles

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More auto burglaries have been reported this year compared to 2019. A common theme Hobbs Police Department has noticed in 2020 is firearms are being taken in the process.

Hobbs has seen a major spike in auto burglaries from last year – up more than 200% in August alone. Reports decreased in September, but are still 65% more than the same time in 2019.

“I can not stress enough,” Ortolano said. “People lock your cars but never leave items of high value, such as firearms inside your motor vehicle when you’re not in it.”

As of Friday, 10 auto burglaries were reported last week. Two involved firearms stolen from cars.

“There is a very common theme that’s going on when people are leaving their cars unlocked,” said Hobbs Police Chief John Ortolano. “A lot of people are leaving firearms in vehicles. …The other items we see people leaving in their vehicle besides firearms, could be electronics, computers, laptops, backpacks, and purses.”

Hobbs was not the only Police Department that saw a spike in auto burglaries this year, Lovington Police Department Public Information Officer David Miranda explained.

“We have been hitting hard as well as Hobbs,” said Miranda. According to the media reports from LPD, there were more than 15 auto burglary reportsin October.

Numbers at the Lea County Sheriff ’s Office have decreased from this month last year. In October 2019, only two auto burglaries were reported. This year it has only been one, according to Chief Deputy Chan Kim.

In Hobbs, Ortolano estimated roughly a dozen firearms are stolen each month from vehicles, but it varies. He explained over the last few months there has been a trend in the Permian Basin where vehicles are being targeted and firearms were taken.

“I’m guessing the people that are doing this because they are having such high success, they are continuing to do it,” Ortolano said. “There are a number of people that may not have realized someone rummaged through their vehicle looking for high-value items.”

The actual number of auto burglaries may be greater, Ortolano said, because people could be unaware someone broke into their vehicle.

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“Sometimes if someone is looking for specific items whether it be firearms or say a computer, something like that,” Ortolano said. “Someone may not even know their vehicle had been rummaged through if they don’t have a lot of things in it.”

Auto burglaries are usually crimes of opportunity; someone checks vehicles until they find an unlocked car and then rummage through it, he said.

“There are times when vehicle windows are broken and things are grabbed, but that is far less a percentage of overall auto burglaries,” said Ortolano. “A lot of times when these are taking place, it will be one or two people walking through a neighborhood. They will go up to every single car down the street and just pull on the door handle.”

There are times that a dozen vehicles could be burglarized in one area, according to Ortolano.

The HPD Chief urges everyone to lock their vehicles, but also keep track of serial numbers and take photos of high-value items.

“One of the things that is troubling is there is so many people that do not know the serial numbers to their firearm,” Ortolano explained. “They think that the police department has my name and my firearm (number). No we don’t, if you go down to the store and buy a pistol, six months later it gets stolen. I have no idea what serial number was on that firearm you bought.”

During the colder months, Ortolano explained, vehicle theft increases because people leave their vehicle running to warm-up and they come back to find it missing.

“Last winter we saw an up-tick in instances like that,” said Ortolano. “I’m hoping we don’t see the same thing this year, but I’m venturing to guess we probably will.”

Making sure that keys are not left in vehicles is important because it can be dangerous when a thief steals a vehicle.

“The people that are stealing these vehicles, sometimes they commit other crimes,” said Ortolano. “Sometimes they run from the police and drive very reckless. …I cannot stress enough: do not leave your car running. There are people looking for crimes of opportunity.”

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