As South Florida communities continue to deal with an increase in vehicle break-ins, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office last month launched an effort to crack down on the illegal activity in the western communities.
PBSO Districts 8 and 9 in Wellington and Royal Palm Beach came together for Operation Open Doors, from May 7-20, which involved deputies from the sheriff’s office road patrol, detective bureau, gang unit and South Florida Task Force, PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.
“Due to a significant increase in both vehicle burglaries as well as stolen automobiles happening in District 9 and District 8 over the past several months, a cooperative effort … was put in place,” Barbera said. “The goal was to identify those responsible for the crimes, ensure successful prosecution and deter further crimes.”
Between the two communities, PBSO deputies made 19 felony and 16 misdemeanor arrests, served five warrants, recovered a stolen vehicle and two handguns, issued 13 criminal citations and seven traffic citations, and seized about 100 grams of marijuana and $3,000.
Crime was up slightly in Wellington last year driven largely by the spike in stolen cars and vehicle break-ins, PBSO reported earlier this year. Royal Palm Beach’s crime rate dropped last year, with each category of crime decreasing except stolen vehicles.
While the number of car break-ins dropped immediately after Operation Open Doors, Wellington village manager Paul Schofield said in a memo sent to the village council Tuesday that there was a “significant” increase in auto burglaries reported last week there, with 18 vehicles broken into. Of those, he said, every car was unlocked.
Finding unlocked cars has been the key to many of the vehicle burglaries happening in Wellington, Schofield told The Palm Beach Post last week. People trying to break into cars will walk down a street trying door handles until they come across an unlocked car. “Even if they just get change, they’re going to get a few hundred dollars in a night,” he said.
The same problem has plagued Royal Palm Beach, village manager Ray Liggins said. “You don’t want to think there’s people out there that would do that,” he said of those who go street to street “flipping door handles.”
He called on residents to remove valuable items from their cars and lock them before heading inside their homes. “Make it a little bit hard for them,” Liggins said.
PBSO and Wellington are taking the step of installing a license-plate reading system at key intersections. Officials have said they hope the system will cut down on the number of stolen cars and auto burglaries in the village.