CrimeTracker Investigation: Auto burglaries in Jefferson Parish

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - It only take seconds for a criminal to break into your car.

"They're walking down the street pulling on door handles, and whatever doors open up, they're grabbing whatever low-hanging fruit that's in the car," Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto said.

"A burglary suspect normally will continue to commit burglaries until they get caught, so if I don't catch them until they commit 20, all 20 of them count. If I catch them after five, I prevented 15 more," Lopinto said.

In 2016, deputies investigated 2,271 auto burglaries, compared to 1,904 cases in 2017. While the numbers may seem high, Sheriff Lopinto said he isn't at all surprised by the amount of auto burglaries in Jefferson Parish.

"You know, we have nights when you may have 30 in one night. I mean, we deal with a population of 430,000. That's a big population, so you can't compare Jefferson Parish with a small jurisdiction," Lopinto said.

In all of Jefferson Parish, there were more auto burglary calls in Metairie than anywhere else. There were 1,140 calls in 2016 compared to 984 calls last year.

"When you have that amount of cars in a high proximity by a 50-foot lot connected to another 50-foot lot, it becomes an easier target for someone who is going to go down the street and pull on car handles," Lopinto said.

He said the easiest way to avoid becoming a victim is to simply lock your doors. The sheriff said since 2015, burglars broke into unlocked vehicles 87 percent of the time.

"You know, they're pulling on a car handle and the door opens. Now let's see what's in it," Lopinto said.

When a rash of auto burglaries unfolded along Metairie Lawn Drive in 2015, neighbors were taken aback. The suspects had their guns drawn, targeting unlocked cars in Old Metairie.

"To see them go through my car like that, and the fact that they had guns. I mean, they were in my car, fully in my car rifling through it," said a victim who does not want to be identified.

Out of 1,900 burglaries last year, only 17 of them were forced entries or what's called smash-and-grab.

"They broke the passenger-side window and go in from around the driver's seat," said another victim, Latoya Armand.

Lopinto said in most smash-and-grab cases, the burglars see what they want and they're determined to get it.

"Whether it's the change in your cup holder, the laptop in the backseat of your car or the weapon you leave in your car," Lopinto said.

In Waggaman, Remsey Johnson said he remembers getting a knock at his front door from a Jefferson Parish deputy.

"He was just telling us to be aware that they had somebody breaking in cars. Our passenger door just happened to be open," Johnson said.

He said someone used a screwdriver to break in to his SUV. They rummaged though the vehicle, but didn't take anything.

"If somebody wants to get in your car, they gonna find a way to get in there, you know, when you sleep or whatever," Johnson said.

Waggaman is on the West Bank, in zip code 70094, where police received 691 vehicle break-in calls for service last year.

Lopinto said often times, it's what the thieves are finding in vehicles that's causing the biggest problem.

"Ten percent of the burglaries that occur involve a stolen weapon out of a vehicle," he said.

According to the Sheriff's Office, thieves stole 216 guns out of  vehicles last year.

"You know, that's 200 more guns that are on the street that we have to go recover from other incidents," Lopinto said.

He added that thieves will use the guns in other crimes or sell them to other criminals.

"It's a couple of hundred dollars cash to a person on the street. That's going to be sold to someone with ill intent," he said.

So far this year, thieves stole 55 guns.

"I noticed that his car was broken into. I was like, 'did you leave anything on the inside?' He was like, 'yeah, I left my gun.' I was like, 'why would you leave your gun?'" Latoya Armand said.

She admits that leaving a gun, especially exposed in a vehicle, is not a good idea.

"It's broad daylight and people could see it. Your windows are not tinted, so..." Armand said.

Lopinto said most people understand the importance of locking their vehicles, but sometimes people forget.

"Unfortunately, you'll have people that take the opportunity because they know that. It's not going to be every night. You'll leave your car unlocked, and you may go several years and no one will ever pull on your handle. But that one night or morning when you go out to your car and something is missing, you'll wish you would have pressed that button," he said.

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