By Tamas Mondovics

Vehicle burglaries are continually keeping deputies busy throughout Hillsborough County and while the department is not claiming an increase of the problem, its ongoing presence continues to plague both residential and business neighborhoods alike day or night.

Since January, HCSO received reports of more than 200 vehicle burglaries in the county’s District II region, with the other areas reporting similar numbers.

According to Detective Sergeant Steve Lewis with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office District II Investigations Section, a recent streak of burglaries prompted the sheriff’s office to increase awareness as well as to keep pushing out a public message in order help curtail this ongoing problem by urging residents to be vigilant.

“We are not seeing an increase necessarily, but a high number of break-ins are routinely reported,” Lewis said adding that residents are leaving items in plain view, which become easy targets of what detectives have dubbed ”crime of opportunity.”

Lewis specifically mentioned locations thieves look for include local fitness centers and gyms in District II such as the Campo and Brandon Family YMCA, Lifetime Fitness, as well as the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center where a recent streak of break-ins have been reported.

“Thieves usually hit 4-5 cars at a time at these businesses, because they know that car owners will be occupied for awhile,” Lewis said.

The sheriff’s office is eager to remind residents that auto burglaries are among the most preventable crimes because thieves most often enter vehicles with unlocked doors.

“Thieves love it when you make it easy for them to steal your valuables,” said HCSO spokesperson Larry McKinnon. “Most of the time, locking up your car is all you need to prevent being a victim of this crime and heartache.”

Detectives said 80 percent of auto burglaries occur through unlocked car doors as a quick check of the door handle will tell a thief if the vehicle is his next target, or if he needs to keep looking.

Upon finding an unlocked car, the burglars rummage through glove boxes and center consoles, quickly grabbing whatever valuable they can find, before moving onto the next car. Items most favored are GPS units, iPods, cameras, laptops and money.

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