Through the first three weeks of 2011, 66 break-ins were reported. According to Cleveland cops, at least that many more break-ins have taken place but were not reported by victims.
How bad is it? Already this year, six break-ins took place in one day at a single Warehouse District parking lot. Another happened on Euclid Avenue at Playhouse Square in broad daylight. A homeless man was arrested in possession of property swiped from nine different cars — and none of those vehicles’ owners had reported the thefts.
In many instances, victims wrongly assume that filing a police report will result in notification of their insurance companies, leading to higher premiums. Other times, they figure their losses won’t match the cost of their deductible. Still others would rather not wait the several hours it generally takes for police to respond to a reported theft.
In response to the spree, Cleveland Police joined forces last week with other law-enforcement groups to step up downtown vigilance. Included in the effort are the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Dept. and police from Cleveland State University and RTA.
“This is a ‘cover your ass’ move, and we don’t blame them,” says one cop. “Throwing more resources at it is the right thing to do. The problem is, what happens next week? By next month, we’ll be back to square one.”
Potential causes of the spike are numerous: more unattended parking lots than in years past, a greater number of downtown residents using less-secure parking, minimal consequences for offenders, and good old-fashioned carelessness. Though GPS units are highly coveted, many thieves will break a car window for coins on the console.
“To us, we leave a couple bucks on the change tray, that’s nothing,” says a cop. “To them, that’s a 40-ounce.”
More savvy crooks are making a difference too.
“The folks out there breaking into cars are getting more sophisticated,” says one officer, adding that they often work in groups of three or four, serving as lookouts for one another. “They know there are no repercussions.”
About 70 percent of car vandals are homeless, they say — which makes a day or two in jail for getting caught fairly enticing this time of year. — Erich Burnett