Burglars find proliferation of GPS devices alluring

Police around San Mateo County are gearing up for what they say could be an especially heavy holiday season of auto burglaries caused by a prevalence of GPS devices arriving under Christmas trees this year.

Nearly every department in the county said rampant shopping causes property crimes to hit their peak this time of year. The GPS mapping devices — expensive, easy to spot and hardly ever stashed away — are auto burglars’ favorite new toy to steal, and have caused this year’s burglaries to rise past totals in previous years, Redwood City Detective Gregory Farley said.

“It’s by far this year’s most popular item,” Farley said. “It seems to be the reason there’s more burglaries this year.”

“GPS has become the item of choice in vehicle burglaries. It’s been the case for the last six months or so,” San Bruno Cmdr. Noreen Hanlon said. “I think you’ll find that to be the case countywide.”

In Burlingame, 14 auto burglaries were reported between Dec. 2 and Dec. 7 after 11 were reported in the first week of November and five more reported between Nov. 21 and Nov. 25. In those three stretches alone, 30 break-ins were reported during 18 days — and a common item stolen was GPS devices, according to reports.

Burlingame, with 249 auto break-ins by Dec. 7, is already on pace for its highest auto burglary total, 265, in five years, according to statistics from Records Supervisor Colleen Villegas.

Only 1 percent of auto burglaries in Daly City involved GPS devices last year, but through August of this year that number rose to 2.7 percent, Capt. Mike Edwards said. With so many people receiving the mapping systems as gifts this time of year, Edwards said burglaries would go up if people leave them in view as they do car stereos.

“It’s an easy item to smash the window and steal very quickly; there’s not much work or effort involved,” Edwards said. “It’s always [important] to take that extra minute to unhook it and put it away.”

The formula for auto burglaries is straightforward. Police said typically men will approach cars parked in ill-lit areas at night, look into windows to see of anything valuable is inside and then smash a window if they like what they see.

Electronic items such as laptops and MP3 players, or anything else that is easy to grab and resell, are popular among burglars, hence the crime increase this time of year when people shop and receive new toys, police said.

Creativity used to help prevent auto break-ins

Some police departments have developed creative ways to combat their auto-burglary problems.

Foster City uses citizen volunteers to patrol cars parked in large shopping centers such as Costco, Capt. Matt Martell said. If something valuable is seen inside, the volunteers leave a security notice on the car telling its owner to be more careful.

San Mateo uses its Comm Stat program to analyze crime trends in specific spots around the city, Lt. Mike Brunicardi said. When officers notice crime trends — for instance, a rise in auto burglary in a specific neighborhood — it increases patrol there, Brunicardi said.

Foster City and San Mateo police both said they have not noticed an increase in car thefts recently compared with past holiday seasons.

South San Francisco police, who said about half their break-ins this year involved GPS devices as of August, held a public demonstration in August to show the ease at which the crimecan be committed. An officer playing a crook took only 30 seconds to smash a window, grab the device and get away.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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