The number of reported thefts from vehicles between January and October this year has jumped 40 percent from last year at this time, the Anchorage Police Department said Thursday.
Thieves target cars in driveways with open doors and visible valuables, said Det. Darren Hernandez, with the department's theft unit.
These cases can often be complicated, some taking months to solve and require contacting officers from other units.
Hernandez is currently investigating four suspects, some of which have 10 or more victims, and the rash of thefts has left him and the unit's other two detectives swamped.
"We just can't keep up primarily with the call load," Hernandez said.
New crime-mapping software shows officers that vehicles thefts happen all over the city, but the two hot spots are downtown and South Anchorage.
Hernandez's unit focuses on cases with the most information available.
"It's kind of hard to follow if you don't have anything," he said.
And thieves don't just smash windows to steal your radio, instead they are looking for unlocked car doors and access to credit cards, checkbooks and victims' identities.
"It's scary out there," he said. "We're doing the best we can."
Hernandez said thieves are charged every time they use a credit car and those who get away with wallets and purses try sometimes try to sell the items themselves.
An even larger issue, he said, is when people steal firearms out of vehicles -- which happens on a daily basis, Hernandez said.
Garage door openers are another desirable target.
He said thieves not only take equipment and sporting gear from garages, but the devices also make it easier to get inside the homes.
"You forget how vulnerable you are when that garage door opens up," he said.
Many of these thieves are drug addicts, Hernandez said, looking for a quick sale.
"Some people are just looking for the next fix,"
The best way to avoid the break-ins altogether is to lock vehicle doors and remove or conceal valuable items from vehicles, police said.
If you see any suspicious activity, call 907-786-8900 or in an emergency, dial 911. If you are a victim of a vehicle break-in, you can file a report online at www.muni.org/apd .
By BENJAMIN S. BRASCH