By Jennifer Clampet (USAG Wiesbaden)September 23, 2009
WIESBADEN, Germany - Wiesbaden Military Police are reminding families to not be "targets of opportunity."
Last month MPs closed 20 cases of car break-ins that occurred in Crestview and Hainerberg Housing. All were linked to a U.S. military family member who, according to police, saw vehicles in military housing areas as easy targets.
From May to August the string of car break-ins racked up a total cost of $10,713 in property damage and loss, according to MP reports.
Everything from iPods and navigation devices to passports and purses were among the items reported stolen and, according to police, sold by the military family member at the local train station.
The family member was first arrested by the Polizei in an unrelated case. German police then contacted Wiesbaden MPs who questioned him.
MP Investigator Eric Tanner said the man admitted to the break-ins and to having a German national accomplice - that accomplice has not yet been charged in connection with the cases.
"He admitted to a drug problem and to a desperate need to feed his addiction," said Tanner.
According to the man's confessions, the duo targeted the American housing areas for two reasons. First most people didn't lock their vehicle doors. Second, people left their valuables in plain sight.
During the course of the break-ins, MP investigators noticed similarities between the cases. The suspects would enter through the passenger-side doors either via an unlocked door or a smashed window.
"Overall, there is not a big problem with larcenies from the housing areas, with the exception of the last string of thefts," said Master Sgt. William Trabucco, provost sergeant for U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.
"The people who perpetrated those thefts targeted the housing area because they thought it would be easier, and it was," he said.
Tanner and Trabucco said practicing basic crime prevention can curtail thefts. Don't leave your doors unlocked. Don't leave valuables in plain sight in your vehicles. If you see a suspicious person or occurrence, report it to the MPs.
Tanner also encourages people to report car break-ins even if nothing was damaged or stolen. Tanner said he believes the number of car break-ins associated with the recent string of thefts is much higher than 20. But people tend not to report a break-in if nothing was taken.
The Wiesbaden Directorate of Emergency Services wants community members to be more involved with crime prevention. Trabucco talked about a community policing effort where residents are asked to keep their eyes out for suspicious activities and provide useful information to law enforcement.
"As opposed to the generic complaints such as 'I saw a car parked in a handicap spot at the PX the other day,' what would be preferable and useful would be 'I saw a blue Ford, license plate WI ABC 123, parked in a handicap spot at the PX at about 10 a.m. on Sunday.' The more we can get people to tell us, the better we will be able to assist them," said Trabucco.
Community policing would also involve getting law enforcement out in the community more to build rapport with residents. Trabucco said building a level of trust makes residents comfortable calling the MPs to report activities or to come forward with information useful to solving a case or even preventing a crime from happening.
"What it boils down to is if you make it harder for the criminals, there will be less crime," he said.