By Erich Wagner (File photo)
Alexandria police have been working to stave off a spike in car break-ins and bicycle and auto thefts primarily in the Rosemont neighborhood.
Acting Police Chief David Huchler said the increase began around September 20, and the department has since deployed additional officers to the area.
“We utilize a strategic response system in Alexandria, so as soon as this started to occur, the patrol deputy chief came up with a plan,” he said. “We’re always looking at real-time data, so when we see a spike, we can mobilize quickly.”
Huchler said most of the incidents are considered crimes of opportunity, noting some of the bikes were stolen from storage sheds, while many of the car-related crimes were in part the result of vehicles being left unlocked.
“We’ve had nine larcenies from autos from the period of September 20 to October 18,” he said. “Out of those nine, eight of the cars were unlocked and required no forced entry, and one had a window broken out — and that was because there was a laptop in plain view.”
And Huchler said three cars have been stolen in the neighborhood in recent weeks. But the department’s increased presence in the area already has produced results.
“We recently arrested two juveniles for the larcenies of bikes,” he said. “Since they were from storage sheds they’re technically burglaries, but we were able to identify them and make an arrest.
“That’s the basis of our strategic response. Once we start to see a spike, we deploy resources, and within a two-week time we’ve identified a handful of individuals who may be part of the incidents occurring out there. We’ve got a number of ongoing investigations and we’re optimistic we’ll be able to bring some closures to these cases.”
Police stressed the importance of taking a few simple steps that can deter would-be thieves in many instances.
“The biggest thing people can do to help themselves and to help us is just to make sure you don’t leave valuables in the car and to lock your vehicles,” Huchler said. “With incidents like this, people just walk down the street and try door handles, and when they find one that’s unlocked, they go in and see what they can find. Sometimes they even just take change.”
It is also critical that residents call police when they notice something out of sorts.
“Call us and allow us to investigate the suspicious activity,” Huchler said. “Too often we hear, ‘Well, last night I saw something suspicious.’ It’s very helpful to have that informa- tion as it occurs. Getting it the next day is fine, but most of the times that we can make arrests or further an investigation more quickly is if we’re called at the time the incident occurs.”
And Huchler said the department has used the incidents to remind people about the availability of reporting crimes via telephone or the Internet, which he said can be both less of a hassle than waiting for an officer to take a report in person, and also a boon to officers’ ability to investigate and deter crime.
“Actually, the phone re- porting unit has been around as long as I can remember, and I’ve been here for 25 years,” he said. “The telephone reporting unit, as it’s called, is really used by just about any progressive police department. It’s a way of alleviating patrol officers on the street from having to do a lot of paperwork so we can more effectively direct our patrol activities.
“That way, we can mitigate and intervene to make an arrest. We’re just more successful when officers can be pro-actively working to prevent crimes, rather than responding to the report of an incident after the fact.”
Huchler stressed that the department investigates crimes reported by phone and online as it does with crimes reported in person.
“I think there was some miscommunication with residents, who thought the cases are not being investigated,” he said. “But that’s not true. Every case is investigated and reviewed to see if there are any more leads. And more importantly, all calls become part of the database we use for analysis on how to deploy officers.”
The police department’s community group liaisons have been reaching out to residents to assuage their concerns and offer tips.
“We held meetings with community groups out there to explain how we’re deploying and how residents can help us, and explain telephone reporting and why that’s so important,” Huchler said. “And in one case, I made a personal phone call to the person who had vehicle damage to ensure they received the service that the community expects from their police department.”