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Burglars don't have to go inside to do their shopping at the big box stores lining south Iowa Street. They just wait for items to be left behind in cars in the parking lot.
"A person sitting there can watch somebody get out of their car and walk in the store and know, 'I got as much time as I need to get over there.' And, if the door is unlocked, he is in it and gets everything he wants," Lawrence police Capt. David Cobb said. "You make it like the Wal-Mart for thieves if you leave your stuff in the car."
South Iowa Street was the most likely place in Lawrence for a car break-in over the past six months, according to a Journal-World computer-assisted report of police data since October.
Of the nearly 350 car break-ins reported, 20 occurred along south Iowa Street between 23rd and 34th streets.
During the same six months, 79 vehicles were reported stolen in the city. The estimated dollar value of the crimes - including property taken, damage to the vehicle and value of the car stolen - totaled $902,000.
While the data collected shows clear pockets of where cars are broken into and/or stolen, no city neighborhood is immune.
"Everywhere there is a vehicle parked, there is somebody who is going to find something they can take," Cobb said.
South Iowa Street is a particular target, Cobb said, because it draws shoppers, and those shoppers leave packages in the car as they go from store to store.
The old crime prevention tip that items are safer in lighted commercial areas doesn't always hold true.
"Well, if it is in a safe, lighted area and you can see all kinds of things to steal in there, it is just like an open invitation," Cobb said.
In the past six months, the parking lot with the most break-ins was at Wal-Mart. Five break-ins were reported at 3300 Iowa.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone said some of those thefts occurred when purses were left in the car.
"I think that is what we see more often than not," Bluestone said. "We encourage customers to take precautions to guard their valuables."
Wal-Mart has several techniques to keep parking lots safe, Bluestone said. She wouldn't reveal what those measures were.
"We wouldn't want to teach the criminals how we do things," she said.
The stores are not all that attracts burglars to south Iowa Street. Cobb said movie theaters are also prime spots for burglars.
"It gives them an hour-and-half to two-hour opportunity to get into your car," he said.
While south Iowa Street had the highest concentration of auto crimes, there were plenty of residential areas that saw clusters of break-ins and car thefts.
Topping the list was Tennessee Street, which ranked second in the number of break-ins. Most of those break-ins occurred between midnight and just after the start of the workday. In almost all break-ins along Tennessee Street - 14 total - force was used to get into the car.
Why Tennessee Street is a particular target is a question the police department has asked. The explanation could be a combination of dense parking and the ability to see cars coming from a far-off distance on the one-way street.
"If you leave your stuff out where it can be seen, through the windows, you are giving them a perfect opportunity to go through your car," Cobb said.
KU student Stephanie Geddie's roommate had her car broken into right outside their Tennessee Street sorority house. The burglar got away with $800 in valuables.
Geddie said she has learned to keep her valuables in her room, but the same is not true when she is hits the stores on south Iowa Street.
"If I am shopping, I just throw my things in my trunk and hope that no one breaks into my car," she said.
The stolen goods
When a burglar stole a bag full of guitar pedals out of Forrest "Ace" Frazier's Volvo three weeks ago, they took part of his mojo with them.
The pedals - with vintage parts from Russia and China and worth "a couple thousand dollars" - had been molded by Frazier over thousands of hours. Frazier is lead guitarist for the band Guse. Practicing for one of the biggest shows of his career - main stage at Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival - Frazier said without the pedals, his music is missing some of its color.
Frazier placed fliers around town and checked in with pawnshops and music stores in Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City looking for the pedals.
So far, no luck.
"It was pretty devastating," he said. "They are probably my most prized possession."
Whether it is 75 cents or irreplaceable guitar pedals, almost everyone who has their car broken into has something taken.
At the top of the list are the more common items: stereos, iPods, CDs, laptops, cash, cell phones, flashlights, purses and coins.
But there have also been the more uncommon: $100 worth of Sacagawea coins, a bust with a name engraved on it, Borat movie posters and a $71 bottle of Bourbon.
According to the Journal-World review, more than $170,000 worth of property had been taken in the past six months.
The damage done to break into the vehicles was estimated at $50,900. For those who reported damage to police, the majority had to pay $200 or more to fix broken windows.
Kelly Hoover, who lives off Harvard Road, had $8,000 worth of camera equipment stolen from his truck last month. Added on top of the property taken was $300 to fix the window.
For Hoover, the stolen camera equipment is a loss of both memories and money. The camera held photos of his daughter, who had been trying on dresses for her June wedding.
Break-ins have been fairly common in Hoover's neighborhood.
This fall, his son's truck was broken into the night before he was set to leave for New York. And his wife's and daughter's cars have had less expensive items - CDs and coins - taken.
"It's someone that has to be walking the neighborhood," Hoover said.
Finding the culprits
The profile of a car burglar is no profile.
The car burglars the police have caught have been as young as 12 and as old as in their 50s, Cobb said. They have come from Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City. Some have worked alone and others in groups as large as four.
"There isn't just one. There are so many of them and there are so many opportunities because of the vehicles and the things that we leave out for them," Cobb said.
Police believe a man they caught two weeks ago and arrested on suspicion of car theft and burglary was working alone and using the items he stole to trade for drugs, Cobb said. When he was arrested, Cobb said, police found two to three days' worth of stolen goods in his possession.
When a rash of burglaries occurs, Cobb said police can put four or five officers on patrol in the targeted areas. But many of the break-ins are solved with the help of vigilant residents who call in when they hear a noise or see someone suspicious.
In a recent case, Cobb said, a person saw someone walking up to a car and then ducking. Another person reported that the car door opened and lights went on at a time when no one should have been in the car.
"A lot of these are solved by people saying, 'What is that?' or 'I heard a noise' or 'There is someone out by my car,'" Cobb said.
Police have recovered some of the stolen items. The problem, however, is figuring out who owns the goods.
Just from the past few arrests, police have a list of unclaimed items that fill several pages - $200 in cash, iPods, satellite radios, tools and stereos.
"If you don't know the serial number, if you do not have your name engraved on it, if you do not have a special mark on it, we don't know an iPod from the 100 other iPods," Cobb said.
At the very least, victims should be able to give some identifying factor to the missing item, such as a CD that could have been in a stereo that was stolen.
And the bottom line, Cobb said, is that items should not be left in vehicles.
"I guess what amazes a lot of us in law enforcement when we get to an area where people have left items of significant value in (their vehicles) and are upset that they are gone but are not upset about 'Why shouldn't I have taken care of them a little better?'"