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Car burglaries spark frustration and action in Colorado Springs

Car burglaries in Colorado Springs hit an all time high in 2019.

It's one of the most common crimes in Colorado Springs and one that more recently has led to outrage, action, and sometimes neighborhood frustration with police.

Briargate resident Michael Baker is among those taking neighborhood security into his own hands.

He frequently gets into his SUV around midnight to patrol his neighborhood.

"I'm looking around, looking for things that might be suspicious," he says.

He and a few others organized the watch after a steady string of car burglaries over the past six months in his neighborhood near Lexington and Briargate Blvd.

Many of those crimes were caught on video and then shared on apps like Nextdoor or Neighbors by Ring.

"From what I've seen on camera, they're going up checking vehicles, using flashlights, wearing gloves, dark clothes, and they are checking door handles," explains Baker.

"From what I can see, they're just pulling handles," says a homeowner in Stetson Hills who preferred not to use his name.

He believes most of the happen between 1am and 3am, and said he sees new videos from his neighbors posted almost every day.

His own surveillance cameras captured what was almost one in his driveway.

According to records obtained from CSPD, auto burglaries hit a new high in 2019 with 4,667 reported.

However, that's only slightly higher than the previous years.

There were 4,350 in 2018.

There were 3,812 in 2017.

There were 4,452 in 2016.

According to CSPD, the auto burglaries are spread out across the city, with the greatest concentrations on the southeast side and also in the Stetson Hills area.

Sgt. Troy Ward, who works in the property crimes division, believes the reason Stetson Hills is especially popular for thieves is the high density of homes.

"They're larger neighborhoods, with more homes, which makes for more opportunities for the criminals," he said.

There are plenty of cases where windows are smashed to get inside, but Ward says most of the time, burglaries outside homes are cases of "unforced entry".

"The video supports that they are looking for unlocked cars," he said.

According to Ward, unlocked doors account for 60 percent of all auto burglaries.

But while much of the blame clearly falls on car owners who neglect to lock them up, there is also frustration with police in the comments posted under most of the online videos.

They include statements like, "I wish the police actually cared about this," and "police did nothing," and "what are the police doing???".

Baker agrees.

"It's been very little. I'm not saying they're not doing their job, but I think they're very understaffed, and it's making it very difficult for them to show up to a break-in to a vehicle."

Ward understands the concern, but claims despite the high number of cases, every one is looked at.

"We follow up on every single case," says Ward. "We want every single piece. And what we do with that, even though a single car that was entered, we may not have a lead on, eventually we are going to develop a pattern, identify either an individual or a group that's working illegally to enter these vehicles, and we will be able to link those cases back."

Sadly, very few cases are ever connected to an arrest.

Data obtained from CSPD indicates only about five percent of all car burglaries are ever tied to a suspect.

That's concerning to Sgt. Ward, who believes these thieves can become career criminals if not captured early.

"Property crime leads to bigger crimes," he told KRDO.

Unfortunately for those who park their cars outside a garage, the options to stop or catch the thieves are limited.

Even if the cars or icense plates are caught on video, they are often stolen, so they don't help to track down the crooks.

Police advise against chasing burglary suspects because it is dangerous and could also leave the pursuers liable in the event of a crash.

Another popular idea in the comments beneath videos is using deadly force to stop or deter the thieves, with many claiming vehicles are an extension of an individual's home and therefore protected under state law, but Sgt. Ward disagrees.

"Unless you are protecting yourself from injury or death, or another person, you are not justified in shooting somebody."

The lack of other options is largely the reason Baker and his neighbors are left patrolling their neighborhood on their own.

"I kind of feel like it's an obligation of mine to do this, and kind of look out for my neighbors, just like I feel like my neighbors need to be looking out for me, and being able to help the authorities if need be," he says.

Burglarizing a car, whether through an unlocked door or breaking in, is considered 1st Degree Criminal Trespassing, punishable by 1-3 years in prison.

Sgt. ward says they do work closely with prosecutors to make sure repeat offenders get actual jail time, and no longer a plea bargain that often equates to a slap on the wrist.

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Bart Bedsole

Bart is the evening anchor for KRDO. Learn more about Bart here.


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