Brian Robbins’ car has been broken into and wind chimes have been stolen from the porch of his mother’s home at the corner of Hill Street and 13th Avenue.
That’s why Robbins, who lives a few blocks down Hill, stopped Friday morning and talked to Albany Police Officer Jim Dohr as the officer installed on a utility pole a large metal sign listing crime prevention tips for residents and vehicle owners.
“It’s a great thing,” Robbins said. “My car has been broken into several times and the wind chimes they stole from my mom were from my grandmother. This is a good thing.”
Investigations Lt. Travis Giboney said the Albany Police Department has had the four metal signs for several years and they've been used at community fairs and intermittently around the community. But a spate of car prowls has prompted them to target neighborhoods where reports are beginning to trend.
“We’re looking at trends of car prowls, not scatterings,” he said. “Typically, in more than 50 percent of the car prowl reports, the vehicles were not locked. And in the majority of other prowls, there were items left in plain sight such as medications, laptop computers, guns and purses.”
Giboney said that from Sept. 24 to Oct. 4, the Albany department had six car prowl reports in which items were reported stolen. There were nine reports from Sept. 11 to 21, and six car prowls from Aug. 20 to Sept. 2.
“Between Aug. 6 and 19, we had a spike of 20 car prowls,” Giboney said. “I don’t know that it is related, but it was after this we had the signs out on display at the Northwest Art and Air Festival, and put them out on 53rd and posted on Facebook.”
Giboney said that since September the department has also received seven reports of cars being entered, but no items were missing.
“I think this is situation is very under-reported,” he said. “People realize their vehicle was entered, but they aren’t sure if something was missing or had actually been left in the vehicle at all, so they don’t report it.”
Giboney said putting items under a blanket or in a backpack doesn't deter would-be criminals.
“They are curious and they want to see what’s under that blanket or in that backpack,” he said. “They don’t mind breaking out a car window to see what’s there.”
Giboney said although many of the car prowls are by individuals, but sometimes clusters of break-ins are committed by groups of teens who are working close to home.
“We have had a spate of lunchtime car prowls at local restaurants,” he said. “We’ve seen guns stolen from vehicles while their owners are eating lunch.”
Giboney said that one group of prowlers that had been working in North Albany were breaking into cars and using garage door openers to get into garages as well.
“They walk around with a flashlight looking into vehicles,” he said. “There are also folks who walk around all night just looking for things to steal. Look how many reports we get of bags of cans or bottles being taken off someone’s porch.”
As part of the department’s education work, Giboney said officers and volunteers are also going to large parking lots, such as shopping malls and theaters, looking for unlocked vehicles or vehicles in which items have been left in plain sight.
“They leave a note on the windshield with crime prevention tips,” he said.