Most Pierce County law enforcement agencies generally do not send an officer to investigate car prowls when less than $1,500 in damage is done.
After nearly 30 reported break-ins at Lakewood Towne Center in a little more than two weeks, Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro has reconsidered that policy, spokesman Chris Lawler said Monday.
On Thursday and Friday alone, the area near Lakewood Towne Center saw 18 car prowls, Lawler said, while two happened in the rest of the city. Since Jan. 8, there have been 28 break-ins near the shopping center, of 51 in the city.
“That number, it’s a lot,” Lawler said. “That makes us wonder how many people are involved in this group.”
That’s why officers will respond for the time being to all car prowl reports near Lakewood Towne Center, Lawler said, and why the police presence there has increased.
Because police have little information about the break-ins, they are asking residents and visitors to report suspicious behavior near the area and be “the eyes and ears” for officers, Lawler said.
“You never know what somebody will see or record on their cellphone,” Lawler said. “It would be helpful if we got that information from the public.”
Police also are asking people to keep valuables out of their vehicles, or at least out of view of prospective thieves, and to keep their doors locked.
Lakewood Towne Center has increased security staffing and is working with Lakewood police to help deter the break-ins, said Kimberly Freely, a spokesman for shopping center parent company Retail Properties of America Inc.
The Towne Center is a “target-rich environment” for prowls, Lawler said: There are so many cars there that thieves can quickly go from vehicle to vehicle before slipping back into the crowd.
Lawler, a law enforcement officer for more than two decades, said the only time he’s seen something similar to this rash of break-ins is when prowlers targeted apartment complexes.
Police hope an increased presence of officers, increased awareness by residents and some proactive police work will help find the car prowlers or deter them.
“We’re doing some proactive things that I can’t tell you that we’re doing,” Lawler said. “That would ruin it for the bad guys.”