Thieves back at work in Smfd.

Published 8:01 pm Tuesday, January 7, 2020

By Diana McFarland


A fresh round of vehicle invasions in Smithfield has residents frustrated and angry and police scrambling for leads. 

There were 11 reports in December of unknown individuals getting into mostly unlocked cars and taking items inside in the Moonefield area, said Smithfield Deputy Police Chief Matthew Rogers. 

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There also appears to be a disconnect between police and residents. Some residents have video footage of the perpetrators, but said the police don’t seem interested in looking at them or don’t return phone calls. Rogers said the department is willing to look at everything, and that residents need to email the videos or bring them by on a jump drive or other device — a request that residents said was not communicated to them. 

Instead, residents who have been hit have been posting their accounts on Nextdoor or Facebook, as well as a few clips of video footage of what appears to be hooded youth testing car doors to see if they are open or not. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Smithfield Police Chief Alonzo Howell said he’s been sent some of the Nextdoor links, but said they are not of “evidentiary value.” 

Howell thinks there are different groups of people committing these crimes and that they move from one neighborhood to the next. 

The police are also trying other methods to snare the criminals, such as using an unlocked “bait car.” So far, that hasn’t netted anyone, said Rogers, adding that the area being cased is large, so it makes it more difficult. 

Rogers said he’s ridden around and tried to open cars himself, and often, they are unlocked with valuables inside. 

Once they find cars unlocked, they will keep coming back,” said Rogers. 

In one case, a perpetrator attempted to steal a vehicle until stopped by the owner.

Tim Stephenson, who lives on Jefferson Drive, was sitting in his kitchen at 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve when he heard his vehicle start up. 

Stephenson ran outside and startled the thief, who jumped out of the van and ran off. The van was still in gear and backed into a fence, knocking it over. 

Stephenson reported the incident to the police, but will still have to pay to repair the fence, as well as the deductible on a mobility ramp that was damaged. He also plans to invest in cameras and floodlights, at an estimated cost of $5,000. 

Nicole Murray lives next door and was out in her shed — she has a home business — just six minutes before the perpetrators tried to make off with Stephenson’s vehicle. She had seen individuals testing the door handles of other cars. Murray also has cameras.

Murray was concerned that she could have run into them in her carport, and that they could have been armed. 

Those in the areas have reported seeing a blue car, as well as three youth out in the wee hours of the morning. One video caught an individual wearing a jacket with a hood, with a wide, light-colored strip across the back, dark pants and what looked like a Vans brand shoe. The individual has an athletic build and is around six-foot tall according to the description. 

Murray said one individual appears to be the leader and directs the other two. 

This latest spike in vehicle invasions follows another last summer, when there were more than 40 reports in a three-month period. 

In that case, police thought they had zeroed in on four juveniles, but they were eventually cleared. 

Rogers said these types of crimes tend to increase during the holidays and during the summer, when youth are home from school. 

“We are long past the days when you can leave cars and doors unlocked in Smithfield,” said Rogers.

Smithfield Police Chief Alonzo Howell reiterated that folks need to lock their vehicles and not leave valuables inside. 

Stephenson said he and his neighbors have also been frustrated with the response they are getting from the police. 

Being chastised for leaving a car unlocked is not the answer, looking at video footage is, said Stephenson, adding that he’s also been discouraged by the lack of follow-up, which did happen after The Smithfield Times started asking questions. Same for Murray — an officer arrived at her home for a follow-up while she was talking to a Times reporter. 

Rogers encourages residents to tell him if they are unhappy with the service the department is providing. 

“We never consider any call for service a waste of time and hopefully that isn’t being perpetrated out to the public by our guys,” said Rogers, adding that if no one tells him, he won’t know this behavior is going on. 

Even if a car is simply tampered with, a report should be taken, he said. 

We serve the public, we’re here for the public,” he said.  {/mprestriction}