Though most crime in Royal Palm Beach is down for the first half of the year, one has spiked: auto thefts.
That was the message from Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office District 9 Capt. Rick Naujoks to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council on Tuesday night.
A review of crime in the area for the first six months of 2017 was requested by officials after a violent home invasion on Sandpiper Avenue in July during which two women were sexually battered.
“Given some of the unfortunate events that occurred earlier this year … we thought it would be good to get an update,” Mayor Fred Pinto said.
Robbery, rape, aggravated assault, burglary and larceny cases all were down for the first half of this year from the first six months of 2016, Naujoks said. Despite a 14 percent drop in overall crime, there is an increase in stolen vehicles — with most of those left unlocked with the keys inside.
There were 37 thefts between Jan. 1 and June 30 — up from 15 for the same time last year — and 29 of those were stolen using keys either left in the unlocked stolen car, or in a nearby unlocked vehicle. And of the 316 larceny cases in Royal Palm for the first half of this year, 119 were vehicle burglaries, and 74 of those were unlocked.
“There’s no saying that this 14 percent decrease in crime wouldn’t have been 20 percent or even higher,” Naujoks said. He added that PBSO has “done a virtual cornucopia of everything” to try to get residents to lock their vehicles.
“The bottom line is the people who are victims of these crimes have to help themselves,” Naujoks said.
Many of the people who commit the crimes are teens, with some adults, who check door handles to find unlocked cars. But even when those behind the thefts are found, they often end up back out on the street soon.
“They get slapped on the wrist and they get out and do it again,” he said.
Naujoks mentioned one woman in Royal Palm Beach whose car was stolen twice, both times with the key in her ignition. “She’s wondering, ‘Why are they targeting me?’” he said.
Another Royal Palm resident noticed their vehicle had been stolen when they discovered damage to it one morning, Naujoks said. PBSO placed a tracker on the car, and deputies were able to find it when it was stolen once more.
“We caught (the thieves) putting gas in the vehicle so they could keep using it,” Naujoks said. “These are the kinds of kids we’re dealing with.”
He also said some of the people arrested in Royal Palm Beach have mentioned they come to the village from other areas — in one case, Lake Park — because they’ve heard Royal Palm is “a target-rich environment” where people don’t protect their property.
Council members suggested ways, including posting messages on the village’s electronic message signs, to warn residents that they need to lock their vehicles.
“When we reach out to the public and remind them that they are really in a very good position to not become victims just by taking a little extra effort … it seems as though that has helped somewhat,” councilman Jeff Hmara said.
After the meeting, Pinto said it seemed like “common sense” for people to lock their cars. He added that the stories told by Naujoks at the meeting were shocking.
“Like things you would see on TV,” he said.