OLEAN — The Olean Police Department is asking members of the public to help fight crime — by locking their car doors.
Olean police are once again warning about “car shopping,” their term for when thieves walk the streets late at night and early in the morning looking for unlocked vehicles to rummage through for valuables.
Noting the thieves rarely — if ever — actually break into the vehicles by smashing windows, Olean Police Chief Jeff Rowley said “car shopping” crimes are completely avoidable.
“People unfortunately are complacent with not locking their car doors,” he told the Olean Times Herald on Thursday. “I can’t emphasize strongly enough to make sure you get in the habit of locking your car every day.”
This latest warning comes as an $80 GPS and $10 pair of sunglasses were reported stolen from vehicles parked in a driveway on Genesee Street sometime early Wednesday morning. Another resident also reported it appeared someone had been through their garage, but nothing appeared missing.
In the past few years, everything from loose change to gun magazines have been reported stolen from unlocked vehicles. Two gun magazines, a knife, canine drug overdose kit and camera were reported stolen from an unlocked vehicle on Washington Street last July.
Rowley said police tend to see an uptick in car shopping reports during the warm summer months, as well as the holiday season when people might have valuable gifts inside their cars.
He said car shoppers can be anyone — from teenagers looking for a cheap thrill, to adults possibly looking to support a substance abuse problem.
In October 2017, a Wellsville 19-year-old was charged with breaking into an unlocked RV at a Queen Street home and taking a cell phone. A few months prior to that, an Olean couple was charged with taking a purse, cell phone charger and sunglasses from an unlocked vehicle.
“They usually keep doing it until we catch them,” Rowley said. “Usually the (overnight officers) sooner or later will catch these people.”
Once car shoppers are caught in the act, Rowley said police like to have documentation of recent thefts so they can see whether the suspects are also connected to those thefts.
However, he said victims often don’t bother reporting to police that their cars have been rummaged through.
“They might say, ‘Well, it was only change, or some sunglasses or whatever,’ but when we do catch these people, it’s nice if we have a list of all the places they probably broke into,” he said. “And if we do recover property, it helps us return that property to the property owner.”
Rowley warned residents should remember to lock up even if they don’t leave any valuables in the car. Over the years, police have had incidents where car shoppers damage the inside of vehicles while looking for something to steal, he noted.
“They can just cause you damage for no real reason other than they didn’t find anything in your car and they’re going to punish you for it,” he said.
Catching thieves might be getting easier as more and more homes become equipped with personal surveillance cameras. The Wellsville 19-year-old was caught in part because the homeowners’ camera captured him breaking into the RV.
“If anybody in the area has home cameras, I would ask them to please check their cameras,” Rowley said. “And if they saw anything on there, please contact the investigations’ bureau, and we’ll keep it confidential.”