7960626273?profile=originalA private security camera took this image of a newer model, gray BMW convertible in the area

of Ridge Boulevard in Ocean Ridge. The subject exited the vehicle and checked for other unlocked cars

to either burglarize or steal, police say. Anyone who recognizes the automobile or has additional information

is asked to contact investigator Richard Jones at 732-8331.

Photo courtesy of Ocean Ridge Police Department

By Rich Pollack

    Opportunistic thieves have been stealing cash and valuable items from unlocked cars in a rash of Palm Beach County burglaries during the last three months, with the town of Ocean Ridge being hit particularly hard.
    In a 12-week period, Ocean Ridge police have received 40 reports of thefts from vehicles, as well as 10 reports of stolen cars that appear to have been related.
    “We’re seeing an increase in auto burglaries that is being seen throughout Palm Beach County,” said Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins. “The vast majority of these crimes are being carried out because vehicles are being left unlocked, sometimes with the keys in them.”
    Hutchins said that of the 10 stolen cars, all had been recovered by police in other jurisdictions, in some cases almost immediately after they were reported missing.
    “There was no indication that the cars had been stolen by any other means than by using a key,” he said.
    In several cases, he said, car theft victims either left a spare key in the car or keys in the ignition.
    Hutchins said that in one case, thieves entered an unlocked car outside a home and used a garage door opener to get access to the garage, where they stole a car with the keys inside.
    Investigators from several jurisdictions believe the thefts are the work of two or three groups of individuals that include both adults and juveniles. One arrest has been tied to a stolen car in Ocean Ridge, Hutchins said.
    Police in Ocean Ridge recently distributed a photo of a possible suspect in an orange jumpsuit captured on video getting out of a late-model, two-door BMW sports car and checking for unlocked doors on other cars.
    Several other coastal communities, stretching from northern Broward County to Palm Beach and north, experienced a rash of auto burglaries as well.
    Police in Boynton Beach say they’ve seen a major increase in auto burglaries in recent months throughout the city, with unlocked cars a major target.
    Delray Beach police say they, too, have experienced an increase in auto burglaries, as have residents in Highland Beach.
    In that town, the biggest problem occurred before the December holidays when thieves smashed car windows to gain access to parked vehicles.  
    The cases in Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes, which
Ocean Ridge police also patrol, mostly involved unlocked automobiles.
    “We live in a safe community, and sometimes we tend to let our guard down,” Hutchins said.
    The thefts, he said, occurred mostly at night and took place in private driveways, condominium parking lots and even inside gated communities.
    “It appears they’re looking for anything of value,” he said.
    Hutchins and others in law enforcement, including Highland Beach Police Chief Craig Hartmann, say the best way to avoid becoming a victim of an auto burglary is to be vigilant and take simple precautions.
    “Lock your car, lock your car, lock your car,” Hutchins said.


How to fight back
    Here are five steps from Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins to prevent auto burglaries:
    • Lock your car doors and don’t leave car windows open.
    • Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle, especially in plain sight.
    • Avoid leaving any key, including a spare, in the car.
    • Take your garage door opener with you when you leave the car if it’s parked outside the garage.
    • Be sure to set your car alarm if you have one.

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