Arrow-right Camera

Arts & Entertainment

Car break-ins hit South Side’s southeast neighborhood


A series of car break-ins over the past several months has residents of a South Side apartment complex nervous and unhappy with police.

Criminals are smashing windows on their vehicles and stealing contents in a rash of break-ins that started several months ago.

“Something has got to be done,” said Bonny Milligan, who has been hit twice in about a year and a half at her apartment complex near 30th Avenue and Perry Street.

Police said car prowling – police lingo for car break-ins – is all too common and has become a main line for methamphetamine addicts seeking to pay for their habits. Officers said they are doing what they can to curb the problem.

Last year, they made some progress. Car prowling reports were down. Citywide, police received 3,160 reports of vehicle break-ins in 2007 compared with 3,607 in 2006.

But more recent crime reports show that southeast Spokane has had a rash of car break-ins. More than 100 incidents have been reported east of Grand Boulevard and south of Interstate 90 from last August through January.

Milligan said that when she tried to report the break-in of her car last November on a Sunday, she was told by a 911 operator to call back to the city’s crime reporting center (532-9266) on Monday. She said she has yet to hear from police and has seen no evidence of increased patrols as a result of the crimes. She said she lost the front portion of her car stereo in the November incident.

In the past two weeks, three other vehicles were broken into in the parking lot of her apartment building.

One of the victims was Christine Braaten, who lost about $1,000 in exercise equipment, clothing, jewelry and cash. Her wallet was taken, but returned to her after someone found it several blocks away and turned it in to police.

In addition, her car had nearly $900 in damage.

Braaten’s husband, Derrick, said he is frustrated that police take such a casual attitude toward car break-ins. “I would like to have had somebody in uniform come by and give a damn,” he said.

Milligan said, “Since I’ve lived here, I’ve gotten nothing but a runaround.”

She was so unhappy with the lack of police response that she sent e-mails to Councilman Richard Rush and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

Police said they monitor crime reports and when they spot a rash of car break-ins, they scale up patrol efforts. Police stopped responding to all theft reports years ago because of budget cuts.

“I know that people get frustrated,” said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, police spokeswoman.

She said police know that residents frequently do not report car break-ins, which means that police cannot as easily track crime sprees as they develop.

Milligan and the Braatens said they reported the crimes involving their cars, but their neighbors, who were also victimized, may not have, they said.

Derrick Braaten said that if police aren’t going to do anything about vehicle break-ins, he understands why people don’t report some of the crimes.

But DeRuwe said, “If they are not reported we do not know what is going on. We do have things in place to monitor that kind of activity.”

She said that property crimes typically increase in a neighborhood when a criminal or group of criminals moves nearby and becomes active.

Such crime outbreaks, she said, “depend on what bad guys are in jail and what are not and where they are working when they are not.”

Crime-prevention experts recommend parking near security lights and the entrance to your home at night – and to not leave anything of value in the vehicle. That includes no loose change, purses or bags. Hiding purses or wallets under floor mats or seats is pointless since thieves invariably know to check there, the experts said.

Dian Cummins, president of COPS Southeast, said the best defense against car break-ins is to not leave thieves anything worth stealing. “To pay for their drugs, that is what they are doing,” she said.

Click here to comment on this story »