Special Crimetracker report: Auto burglaries relentless across New Orleans

Special Crimetracker report: Auto burglaries relentless across New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - “I’m fed up and I’ve had it. I’ve been in New Orleans East for almost 30 years. The crime has never been this bad,” Deborah Gray said.

Gray held nothing back when she walked outside of her New Orleans East home to find someone busted the windows out of her daughter’s Levee Patrol unit.

“I’m disgusted and pissed off. It has hit home. Anytime you can come in someone’s driveway, but the window of an officer’s car, the public needs to know about it. I’m tired of it,” Gray said.

Gray’s neighbors said they are fed up too.

“It’s exhausting mentally because everyday you wake up and you’re hoping you’re not the next victim,” one neighbor said.

Car burglaries are up 121 percent in New Orleans East so far this year compared to last.

“It’s enough so that now after 15 and a half years of living here, I don’t think I want to live here anymore,” another neighbor said.

When Kim, another New Orleans East resident, saw what she believed to be a group of teenage boys breaking into her family’s vehicle on her surveillance cameras, she immediately reacted.

“I screamed for my husband and told my kids to get into the room,” Kim said.

She said her husband armed himself, jumped in his truck and followed the would be burglar. He eventually caught up with two people and held them until NOPD arrived. Police arrested both juveniles.

The victim told FOX 8 he felt helpless.

“What else can you do? We have cameras, gates, guns and security systems.”

While frustration is reaching a boiling point in New Orleans East, the situation turned deadly in Mid-City when police say 17 year old Emanuel Pipkins broke into a couple’s vehicle on Cleveland Avenue last week (May 8).

According to NOPD, Zelda Townsend and her husband tried to confine Pipkins in the car, but Pipkins pulled out a gun, shot Townshend in the head and her husband in the arm.

Townshend died at the hospital.

Mayor Layota Cantrell has also spoken out about seriousness of the issue, urging residents not to engage with carjackers, but to instead call 911.

“They have weapons on them as they approach the car, so they are armed and this is serious. They are brazen and they have no fear. We want our residents to know to call 911 and do not engage them,” Cantrell said.

People who live Uptown are frequent victims too, where auto burglaries are up more than 250 percent.

“There’s just no respect for peoples hard work or property. It’s frustrating,” David Jackson said.

Jackson and several of his neighbors became victims on General Pershing Street. Jackson’s surveillance video shows what police say are juveniles breaking the windows of vehicles -- and you can actually hear them doing it.

During the last week of April, Second District Officers investigated more than 40 car burglaries with smashed windows in just 48 hours, according to district commander Doug Eckert.

“What they did was we probably had 10 of them just in Children’s Hospital’s parking lot, and then it varied throughout the Uptown area,” Eckert said.

The NOPD said surveillance pictures show what investigators believe are at least four juveniles committing the burglaries in a stolen Ford F-150.

“They came here and they must have gotten one, two, three, four, five, six cars here, and then two more at the end of the block,” Alice Wright said.

Back in March, Police said a 13-year-old stole a car from New Orleans East, picked up four other people and headed Uptown, where they went on a smash and grab crime spree. Police said they damaged at least 15 vehicles.

“We’ve seen video of suspects riding on the hoods of cars or the trunks of cars. We have them with the doors open, just jumping out, popping the windows, diving into vehicles and getting what they can,” Eckert said.

The NOPD recommends residents remove all valuables from your vehicle, especially guns, which they say is often a target for thieves, who have targeted cars in neighborhoods across the city

Kelly Delgado awoke one day to find her vehicle damaged in the 3000 block of Conti in Mid-City.

“We get to the car and the windows are all bashed in, and then I froze," Delgado said.

In her case, nothing was taken but she said it was still a huge burden.

“Now, I have to take away $200 from my budget to pay for this window, because I cannot drive around the city with a broken window,” Delgado said.

Many residents in Gentilly know that feeling -- like Leroy Evans, who found his vehicle had been vandalized along with a slew of his neighbor’s cars.

“So, I go outside hoping that it’s not mine. I put my tools in the truck and boom, my window is busted wide open. Everything was all over the seat,” Evans said.

Someone even smashed out the window of our FOX 8 News vehicle in the same area.

Video surveillance from yet a third instance in Gentilly shows a truck creeping down the road, pulling up next to a parked car. And then you hear what appears to be car windows shattering.

Neighbors said they’ve dealt with the issue for weeks -- a fact deputy chief Paul Noel said NOPD does not take lightly.

“The New Orleans Police Department absolutely takes these types of crimes very seriously,” Noel said.

Noel said the department is taking a three prong approach to the problem, which includes proactive patrols and putting officers in areas where the crimes are happening the most. He said detectives are also working together to solve cases in all districts.

“One thing that we see is that these criminals are moving around all over the city, committing crimes all over the city. Sometimes they do it on the same night,” Noel said.

Noel said the NOPD is also using community outreach to attack the problem.

“Our officers are actually going door to door, in some cases and interacting with parents of juveniles that are doing this crime and working with them to try to get those kids not only out of a life of crime, but in programs to steer them in the right direction,” Noel said.

The NOPD said juveniles commit the majority of these car burglaries. Online NOPD data shows officers investigated more than 2,000 vehicle burglary incidents this year across New Orleans, compared to about half that during the same time period last year. It’s happening the most in the 3rd District, which includes Gentilly and Lakeview.

Lakeview resident Mia Kacmarcik Sanders was one of the many victims and said the problem feels relentless.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to see that it’s a never ending cycle. It makes you feel powerless and you’re not going to care much anymore,” Kacmarcik Sanders said.

Kacmarcik Sanders said she believes arrested juveniles should face more serious consequences.

“The juvenile justice system is incredibly broken. It’s not OK for 13 to 17-year-olds to be arrested and released the next day because they’re juveniles. I’m sorry, but we need to do better,” she said.

Victims said they are frustrated and Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said he is too, as he talked about the recent death of victim Zelda Townsend.

“Right now, I am full of emotions. I’m very upset. I can’t even discuss it. I’m disgusted. I’m upset. I’m angry,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the NOPD is working every day to arrest those responsible, but he knows more will need to be done.

“We all should look at ourselves, from the criminal justice system, to city government, to the community to the parents. We all should hold ourselves accountable,” Ferguson said.

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