For residents in the Town Square at Millbrook community in Alexandrias West End, its a problem that has persisted for weeks: cars being broken into and dismantled for specific parts or, more unsettling, stolen altogether.
During a particularly heavy wave of activity in early spring, Town Square resident Pam Shorts Honda was struck twice. First on March 30 and again on April 4, vandals smashed a car window in order to steal the airbag.
With plans to move out largely for reasons related to security after her lease ends in July, Short, whos lived in the gated community for nearly two years, is left holding her breath each time she heads to her car.
Im just hoping and praying that my car doesnt get hit again, Short said. I cannot afford to pay another deductible and get my car damaged again.
In response to the increasing regularity of these stories in an area now considered to be a hot spot, police met with residents in May to address their concerns and provide some basic lessons in crime prevention.
Alexandria police spokesman Jody Donaldson said that the investigation is still ongoing and that police have not yet made any arrests related to the Town Square cases.
That area around North Beauregard Street, now considered a hot spot area, has seen increased nighttime police patrols and more of an undercover presence because the nature of the crimes is more organized than instances in which just an iPod or GPS device is stolen.
They stripped an Infiniti with the hood, radiator, bumpers, lights, things inside there were bolts all over the place, Short said. Another Infiniti was actually up on blocks with its wheels stolen.
This group was basically dismantling the whole car, taking the whole front end, so this was pretty big, Donaldson said of the Town Square cases.
These targeted thefts are a continuing, serious problem throughout the region, according to area police departments.
Despite the meeting with Alexandria police officers and the addition of late-night security guards, little has changed at Town Square where residents have reported more instances of vandalism since then, as well as attempts to break into the community by ramming the gate.
My apartment faces the back gate, so Ive personally witnessed two gate-rammings in the last two weeks, resident Tara Setmayer said.
According to Short, one resident is a police officer who brings his car home to provide some sort of a presence, but that clearly hasnt deterred the vandals, who struck his personal car as well.
A big part of the problem here not only is there vandalism but the apartment complex is acting like this isnt their responsibility, Short said. And the people who live here didnt realize that they didnt really have any security.
Lights are out, the cameras dont work, the gates are always broken and not only because theyre being rammed by these people trying to get in, she said.
Town Square is owned by the JBG Companies of Chevy Chase, Md. On the communitys website, the fact that it is a controlled access, gated community is featured prominently in the listed amenities.
When asked about the recent history in the community, on-site management deferred to JBG corporate relations. In an email, JBG Senior Vice President Matthew Blocher said, We appreciate your inquiry and be assured that our residents are our top priority.
There seems to be a certain attitude, a nonchalant attitude, to this recent rash of crime, said Setmayer, who went on to say that she had spoken with more than 20 residents who are also not pleased with the borderline dismissive attitude they sense on the part of management.
Its unnerving to think that the gated community is just a faade in the eyes of [JBG corporate management], given their attitude toward whats happened recently, Setmayer said.
For residents, the communitys gates, advertised security features and relative seclusion had provided a sense of safety that has since been rattled by the thefts.
One resident whose car was broken into for driver and passenger side air bags stereo, navigation system, and an iPod, said that in moving from a neighboring community to Town Square the gate was a draw and did provide me some peace of mind as did the alarms in the apartments.
When you come to look at residences here, they tell you they have the secured gates and the cameras; they tell you all of this stuff and so you assume that there is security, Short said.
I think that theyll come back again if they can, she added. Theyll probably try to hit here again because the garages are so secluded that nobody can hear them.