COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Columbia residents have been sharing experiences on social media platforms of getting their cars rummaged through, often while they're sleeping.
Some Columbia residents are being put on high alert after numerous videos and photos of car break-ins have been circulating around social media sites like Nextdoor. The crimes come at a time when the Columbia Police Department is struggling to find new recruits, and waves of students are starting to return to Columbia to start a new school year.
A portable electronic sign can be found at the corner of Smiley Lane and Rangeline Street reminding motorists to secure their possessions. Pointers like "keep cars locked" and "remove valuables" illuminate the board at the intersection, serving as a reminder of some simple steps to prevent expensive loss. This isn't the first time these signs have been seen around the city, with another being seen on Scott Boulevard in the past.
"Within the first week of moving into The Hamlet neighborhood three years ago, our car was rummaged through," a former undercover narcotics detective told ABC 17 News in an interview. "We didn't have any problems until recently, when our car was rummaged through yet again. Luckily, nothing of value was taken, but it still happened."
The former officer had their car rummaged through twice in the last three years. ABC 17 News gave them anonymity for safety reasons.
The former officer said Columbia falls into a category of a "transient city." The former officer believes that locals need to have a higher level of alertness and awareness toward crime in the area thanks to its location between St. Louis and Kansas City. They stressed the importance of not keeping guns or other valuables in a car that someone could easily access.
"A car is not a place to secure a firearm. It should be locked away in a house, away from children and out of sight," the former officer said. "You're taking on a very big responsibility owning a firearm. You must know how not only to operate it but how to clean and safely store it away so someone can't get their hands on it."
According to the officer, preventing such crimes comes down to the owner of the vehicle being proactive instead of reactive.
"It is not a guarantee someone won't go through your things, but it can act as a deterrent," they said. "Make sure your car is locked and windows are closed. Any valuable items should be brought inside, or hidden out of sight. These things can act as a deterrent, but if someone wants to get into your car, they still will."
Theresa Wilson, a resident of North Columbia, is a victim of a car break in that happened years ago in another city.
"It's what I tell my daughter," Wilson said. "You know, keep your heads up, be aware of your surroundings, lock your car, don't leave it running if you have a second key, and just do all the smart things. Absolutely be aware of what's around you, coming and going," she said.
The Columbia Police Department reported 3,326 property crimes in 2020, with only 432 of these crimes solved, according to a federal crime database. Vehicular burglaries do not make up all of these reported crimes, but do fall under the category of property crimes.