Neighborhood forms a crime watch as Columbia sees spike in car break-ins

Neighborhood forms a crime watch as Columbia sees spike in car break-ins

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The holiday season is fast approaching, which means Black Friday and Christmas shopping are right around the corner.

While you might occasionally leave your items in your car while you go from store to store, a new report on car break-ins from the Columbia Police Department shows securing your car and keeping gifts out of view this holiday season might be more important than ever before.

There has been a spike in the number of car break-ins this year.

The Shandon neighborhood experienced a spike in the number of car break-ins over the summer and formed the Shandon Neighborhood Crime Watch in response to the uptick. Neighbors said that the watch is the new eyes and ears of the neighborhood and they hope that it puts an end to crime in the area, especially as the holidays approach. Organizers of the Shandon Neighborhood Crime Watch said the biggest problem they face is car theft.

“Shandon has always been considered a safe neighborhood,” Kelly Hynes Morris, an organizer of the Shandon Neighborhood Crime Watch said. “I’ve lived here for over 50 years and we’ve just seen uptick in crime and it’s terrifying. Every morning, the first thing I do is look out and make sure my car wasn’t broken into.”

With the help of 130 members, home video surveillance, and a partnership with local law enforcement, organizers hope to change this.

“It can feel like an invasion of your privacy when someone tries to open your car door or rifles through your car looking for valuables,” Mike McCauley, an organizer of the Shandon Neighborhood Crime Watch, said.

One focus of the group is for each house to get to know their neighbors.

“If you know your neighbors, you’ll know what’s suspicious and what’s not,” Morris said.

The group also works to connect the community with law enforcement to notify them of suspicious activity.

“It gives them community a sense of ownership in the community,” Columbia Police Department Lieutenant Daniel Wesley said. “It’s their community. It’s them taking their community back. They want their community to be a certain way. They want to be safe.”

Columbia Police said Shandon isn’t the only area experiencing this. Reports show a 19% increase in the number of break-ins so far this year compared to the same time last year in Columbia.

“The biggest problem we have -- and we’ve been putting this information out for the longest -- is unsecured motor vehicles. That’s one, and another, because it’s getting cold, is leaving your cars idling in the driveway,” Lieutenant Wesley said.

Lieutenant Wesley said the problem only increases as the holidays approach.

“Everybody is shopping. It’s getting close to the season,” Lieutenant Wesley said. “They are catching those Christmas and holiday sales. They aren’t transitioning the property from the vehicles to the house. They are leaving it in the car or they are just going to the mall.”

However, Columbia Police said that taking steps, including not leaving your car running unattended, always locking your car, and not leaving valuables in plain view can protect you.

Columbia police said the majority of car break-ins are avoidable, but things like what the Shandon Neighborhood Watch are doing help to catch the thieves.

Additionally, Columbia Police said leaving your car running unattended, even to warm it up in the driveway during the cold winter months, is against the law. A city ordinance in Columbia prohibits cars from being left running unattended.

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