Thieves have committed at least 136 car break-ins in underground garages in apartments and condominiums close to light rail's Hiawatha Line in south Minneapolis in the past 10 days.
"They're trying to hit quickly, spending maybe an hour in the garage," said John Elder, Minneapolis police public information officer. "These guys and gals can sweep a car in 30 seconds. If there's something of value, they've found it. They're that good."
The burglaries have occurred in clusters at four locations on four nights since Nov. 11-12, with the most — 50 — occurring overnight Wednesday into Thursday at Minnehaha Place Condominiums, 4824 E. 53rd St.
Elder said three of the burglary blitzes have been linked through property swiped at one site that turned up at another, including credit cards. The booty has included wallets, computers, cellphones and GPS systems.
Police believe the burglaries have been the work of one person, Elder said, with perhaps only a partner or two. They're likely looking for items that can be pawned or otherwise sold quickly for drug money.
The burglar or burglars have apparently gained access to the cars first by breaking into the apartment complexes, and not directly into the garages, Elder said.
All the cars burglarized had side windows broken. Some even had unlocked doors.
Elder said police have received some surveillance video, but the images on it aren't clear. The garages don't have security alarms, he added, because they can be triggered in too many ways.
Brett Rogers, 29, said that his car was broken into at his complex, Station 38 Apartments, at 3725 29th Av. S., Nov. 12, and that a burglar rifled through it but took nothing.
Rogers, a technical theater director at the Roseville schools, said he and his girlfriend, a singer who also works for a medical transcription company, moved to Minneapolis about a year ago after living for several years in New York City, where they'd never experienced a burglary or vandalism. They didn't own a car there.
He said he thought the incidents will be "a wake-up call" to his neighbors at Station 38 Apartments, but that they haven't soured him on the city. "Every metro area is going to have some kind of criminal underbelly," he said.
Elder said the extent of the crimes is greater than even the 136. Although 50 cars were found broken into at Minnehaha Place, police received only 43 reports. Many victims, he said, may have shrugged off the incidents if they had free auto glass replacement provisions in their insurance policies.
There have been no arrests, but police will be examining reports of pawnshop sales that come into their database. Elder also said the police will be trying to collect impact statements from victims while the incidents are fresh. Victims should call the Third Precinct and ask to speak with the crime prevention specialist.
In the meantime, "additional marked and unmarked police cars and other forms of attention by police have been directed to the area," said police spokeswoman Karen Notsch.
Police for Metro Transit, the agency that operates the Hiawatha Blue Line, have been alerted, said agency spokesman Drew Kerr.
Kerr added that transit officers who work the Blue Line and vicinity have been directed to pay particular attention to nearby residential complexes "and watch for suspicious activity or subjects who may look out of place."
The crimes occurred at locations within short walks of the Blue Line. Elder said there is no clear tie to the light rail line, however.
In response to the crimes, police distributed tips on what residents can do to prevent such incidents, including being aware of suspicious people and alerting building managers and law enforcement Elder added that car owners should simply leave nothing in their cars; he even takes his loose change and sunglasses with him. Locking doors, he added, might deter some burglars, but obviously not all.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.