Police see spike in car break-ins

Published 4:28 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Clanton police officers have seen a rise in car break-ins this month.

The area behind Winn Dixie, off U.S. 31, has been particularly hard hit — with 15 car burglaries this past weekend alone and two home break-ins.

Police Chief Brian Stilwell said his department is actively working the cases and stepping up patrols.

Residents could help police by taking some simple steps to secure their personal belongings. According to reports, most of the vehicles broken into were not locked, and items of value were left in plain sight.

“These thieves are thieves of opportunity,” said Stilwell. “They walk down the street and check car door handles, and if they are unlocked, they go in and take whatever they can of value in the open. It’s real quick.”

Though it’s not clear if this weekend’s break-ins are connected, the department has seen checks stolen here by what police call the “Felony Lane Gang.” This scam started in Florida and involves a team of people who travel around breaking into cars, stealing purses and checks, before cashing them at banks.

The suspects generally use the drive through lane farthest from the bank teller when cashing the checks and have been known to wear wigs and other disguises to help them pass off as the victim.

Pelham Police recently arrested five suspects in a widespread car burglary and identity theft sting.

Currently, Clanton Detective Robert Bland is working with officers in other cities as far away as Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Irmo, S.C.; and Alpharetta, Ga. concerning similar thefts.

“I have found some of my victims’ stolen checks cashed in these cities out of town,” Bland said. “Since some of the members of this gang were arrested in Pelham, I am working with their detectives to hopefully bring some of our cases to a close.

Again, while it’s not known if this weekend’s burglaries are related, the department is working at least three prior break-ins connected to this “gang.”

“I encourage everyone to secure their vehicles, not to leave valuables in your cars in plain sight and to call police on anything suspicious — that’s what we are here for,” said Stilwell.

Clanton Police Dispatch can be reached at 755-1120. The department’s secret witness line is 755-1416. In an event of an emergency, always call 911.