By Tamas Mondovics

Putting a new twist on an old message, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Outreach Division held a news conference last month to draw attention to vehicle burglaries and car theft that continues to plague residents across the County.

Breaking the problem down to some numbers puts things in perspective and emphasizes the need to step up the effort.

According to HCSO statistics posted on the Sheriff’s Office website, last year there were 2,769 vehicle burglaries in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

HCSO has also conducted an informal survey of garage doors left open on a single night in Hillsborough County and found hundreds of doors left open. Held at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Operations Center, 2008 E. 8th Ave. in Ybor City, the press conference was led by Major Chad Chronister with HCSO’s Outreach Division, who also presented the Sheriff’s new public safety announcement on how to help eliminate the problem with unlocked car doors, open garage doors and cars left running and unattended.

“Throughout the Tampa Bay area, thieves love it when you make it easy for them to steal your valuables, and these types of crimes are some of the most preventable crimes,” Chronister said.

HCSO’s main concern is the thieves favorite method—”car hopping”—that is systematically pulling door handles to identify unlocked vehicles and simply grabbing anything in sight.

Chronister added that nearly 75 percent of cars are left unlocked, which means that the burglaries are nothing more than a crime of opportunity. “Thieves are in and out of an unlocked car in seconds,” he said. “They don’t care what they take; anything movable to sell for a quick buck.”

While focusing on prevention locally, Chronister emphasized that while car hopping is a nationwide problem, it is the most easily preventable crime.

“Lock your doors and don’t leave anything out for thieves to see,” he said. The new public safety video, called “Thankful Thieves,” as well as other videos and supporting material was presented to the media for distribution to the public to help prevent such crimes, while unveiling the Sheriff’s Office initiative.

To watch HCSO’s Public Safety Announcement, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqiitLE2l5o. Visit www.hsco.tampa.fl.us.