A recent spike in vehicle break-ins was likely related to criminals needing money for drugs, according to local authorities.
The Decatur Police Department reported 16 car break-ins in a seven-day stretch ending Sept. 20, and Hartselle police reported seven two weeks ago. Police records don't indicate if arrests have been made in these cases.
From May through September, Decatur police reported between 31 and 36 break-ins each month. July and September each saw 36 break-ins.
Detective Jodie Fuller with Decatur Police said the one-week break-in spike in September that accounted for nearly half of the entire month's total appears to have occurred randomly. The break-in total fell back to three the following week, according to statistics from Decatur Police Crime Analyst Mary Curry. Twelve of the 16 vehicle break-ins were in Southwest Decatur, Fuller said.
“That week we had four in the Southeast part of town and the others were in the Southwest,” Fuller said. “The west side of town has a larger population and we see more calls there, but there’s been no pattern. They’ve been spread out across town.”
She said numbers overall this year are in line with last year’s tally. From January to September of 2019, Decatur police reported 227 vehicle break-ins, and the 2020 total for the same period is up slightly to 237, she said.
Lt. Allen McDearmond of the Hartselle Police Department called the seven break-ins two weeks ago "high" for this time of year.
He believes many of the criminals are looking for money and firearms.
“Hand tools, anything of value they can get quick cash for,” he said. “Many times, the thieves trade the stolen items with their drug dealers. And when a criminal gets a handgun, it can lead to bigger crimes.”
Authorities said stolen items often end up at flea markets and online market sites such as Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
“If the price is too good to believe, normally it is a stolen item,” he said.
Fuller urged residents not to leave valuables in their vehicles, but to park vehicles in well-lit areas and lock them.
“Be careful about putting bumper stickers on your vehicle about your interests, especially firearms,” she said. “Thieves might think you have handguns inside, and you’re inviting them to case your property.”
Limestone County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Stephen Young agrees most breaking-and-entering crimes are a result of addictions.
“When somebody is spending $90 or $100 or more for pills and other drugs to support their habit, going through a neighborhood checking for valuables in unlocked vehicles is an easy way to get cash,” he said. “Those break-ins are almost always a drug element.
”Oftentimes when we stop a car and find drugs, we also find stolen items from B&E’s, counterfeit money and stolen weapons.”
He said his department usually sees break-ins decline once school starts up in August, but those numbers haven’t fallen much this year.
“Break-ins are usually down this time of year, but in September we had 12 compared to nine in September last year,” he said. “It seems like we’ve had more because we usually see a decline.
"Usually, we see a big increase in B&E’s two weeks before Christmas when people are shopping and leaving gift items in their cars. People need to lock their car doors, even in their driveways.”
He said the east side of Limestone County “tends to get hit more for vehicle B&E’s” because there are more affluent neighborhoods. “Many of the thieves come in from Madison County on that side of the county, too,” he said.
Young added some people are losing their jobs because of the pandemic and may resort to vehicle break-ins to help pay bills, but “I feel most are supporting their drug habits with the break-ins.”
Mike Swafford, spokesman with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, said the county hasn’t experienced an increase, likely because of the large rural population in the county.
“Most of these types of cases involve some people passing through the area targeting a couple of large subdivisions and they keep going,” he said.
Moulton Police Chief Lyndon McWhorter said the city gets one or two break-ins a month and the city hasn’t seen a spike recently. “People just need to lock their cars and don’t leave valuables in plain sight,” he added.