If you value your car and your possessions, Capt. Todd Garrison, commander of the East District Sheriff's Office in Lehigh, has some advice for you and that is to lock your car whenever you are not in it. And second, don't leave valuables in sight for would-be car burglars to try to steal.
Garrison said there is an ongoing rash of break-ins of cars in Lehigh Acres - throughout the entire community - because so many homeowners are not locking their cars at night.
"They're making it an attractive situation for mostly teenagers who may be roaming the streets at night in the dark, looking for cars that are unlocked. And even though our residents have been advised over and over, the word is not getting out, but now with kids out of school, your unlocked cars are in danger," Garrison said.
Capt. Todd Garrison, commander of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office East District, has an urgent message: “Don’t leave your cars unlocked.”
He said over the past few weeks since school has ended, his department has noticed a sizeable increase in the crime and he wants to let people know they are going to lose what is in their car, have their car stolen, and even worse, have their homes broken into.
The reason for a likely home invasion, Garrison said, is because most people have electronic garage door openers and they leave them in their car.
"That's an open invitation to have your home broken into. They will use your garage door opener at some point and get into your garage and often break into the house - and many times, the door from the garage to the inside of the house is unlocked," he said.
When asked why people are not locking their vehicles with all the publicity over the last few years about the crimes each year, Garrison said he believes people are always in a hurry in this fast life style that most people have become adjusted to.
Garrison said it is surprising how many people pull up into their driveways and pull out their keys and throw them into the ash tray or on the seat, leaving the door unlocked and a ready-made opportunity for a culprit to not only get into your car, but to drive it off for a joy ride and leave it abandoned.
"These things are happening in a lot of area and Lehigh is not alone in these crimes. It seems that when school ends and the teens, mostly younger teens, have nothing else to do and at night roam the streets looking for unlocked cars.
A couple of weeks ago, several cars were ransacked in the Gateway area by culprits who were caught on night surveillance cameras.
"Such devices as security cameras on your homes are a good idea," Garrison said. "They offer all types of protection. Having a light that automatically comes on if someone is on your property is always a good idea and if one wants to invest in a system that will set off a loud alarm, so loud that it will wake up neighbors, you can cut down not only on car burglaries and theft, but also break-ins at your homes and businesses.
Larry Gutridge, Lehigh's Neighborhood Specialist with the sheriff's office, was on hand when Garrison made the plea for people to lock their vehicle's doors.
He also added that residents should be diligent at night due to home break-ins or home invasions as some call the crime. He urged people to become smart and secure their homes by making sure their doors are locked and taking precautions with sliding glass doors, learning ways to keep thieves from prying up a glass door. He said there are ways to help fight such crimes and they are not expensive and many devices can be bought from any hardware store's security department.
Garrision noted that Lehigh is 96 square miles in size and that overseeing such a vast area is a challenging job for his officers. He said that whenever someone sees something going on in their neighborhood that looks unusual, to not be afraid to call the Sheriff's Office at 477-1000 or if there is a direct emergency, to call 911.
"We would rather have calls that didn't amount to anything than for someone to see something suspicious and not call us and a crime takes place," he said.
If residents are up in the middle of the night, taking medications or going to the bathroom and they look out the window and see teenage kids roaming up and down the street, there is a reason to notify the sheriff's office.
By making such a call, Garrison says you can help prevent a crime that may take place on your street or in your neighborhood or even on your own property.
Also, remove your valuables from your car and take them inside your home. Garrison said some people think you can put them in your trunk, but he cautioned that once someone is in your car, all they have to do is push a lever by the seat and it pops open the trunk.
"And using those motion lights is a great idea to scare off would-be thieves on your property," he said.
"But the best advice I can give everyone is to make it a habit to always remove your keys from your ignition, get out and lock your door. Make it a habit, a natural thing to do. Make it a ritual at night to make sure your doors are secured in your home and that your car is locked for sure," he said.
Gutridge also came up with a good idea in relationship to people on your property at night. He said that if you use the reverse side of your key set and push the emergency button, your horn will start blowing and that will alert neighbors that something is wrong and quite often it will chase off a would-be thief.
"I'm going to keep stressing to people over and over, to take your car keys out and lock your doors, day and night, no matter where you are. "Don't give a burglar an opportunity to do damage to your car, stealing things out of your car and even stealing it," he said.