It's becoming the "crime of the summer" as more thieves strike homes and cars across the metro area, spurring police to step up efforts to warn residents.
In Plymouth, police are sticking red and white "tickets" on cars to catch drivers' attention about the rash of "car shopping," or stealing electronics and other items from vehicles. In Champlin, officers are getting out of their cars more to patrol on foot. And in Golden Valley and Maple Grove, police patrolling neighborhoods are taking it a step further when they see garage doors left open at night, waking residents to help prevent thefts from happening.
"It's a pretty marked increase," Maple Grove Police Chief David Jess said about the rise in burglaries. "It's kind of the crime of the summer."
Besides the northwest suburbs, Minnetonka, Edina, Eden Prairie and Hopkins police have also seen an increase in the number of burglaries from cars and homes in the last couple of months, with one Minnetonka officer saying the west metro area is a target because of many affluent neighborhoods. While burglaries in Brooklyn Center are down, thieves there are focusing on stealing video gaming systems, and in the last month, police have seen a spike in garage thefts. In southwest Minneapolis, thieves have zeroed in on high-end bikes, stealing more than 1,000 bicycles since January -- an increase of 12 percent from this time last year.
But it's in the suburbs where police are trying to reverse the mentality that good neighborhoods are immune from crime.
"There's a sense of security here," Jess said. "People ... feel it's not going to happen."
Maple Grove Police are ramping up efforts after a drastic rise in home burglaries, posting notes to homeowners' doors and calling up residents who leave garages open. Police usually see about 120 home burglaries a year, but by Aug. 1, they hit 181 home burglaries across Maple Grove. Stolen items include everything from iPads, iPods and purses to golf clubs.
Golden Valley Police also show up at residents' doors when they see open garage doors, even though "it's not likely how you like to be woken up at 2 a.m.," Police Chief Stacy Carlson said.
What frustrates local police is that thefts are one of the most preventable crimes. Crooks often target unlocked cars and doors or get access into a home by using a garage opener in a car. Police say it's going to take a mindset shift by residents to be more vigilant in locking garages and doors and keeping valuables out of view.
"It's one of those chronic issues we have to deal with ... but we can't have success unless the community changes its behavior," Plymouth Police Chief Mike Goldstein said.
Plymouth Police saw an uptick last weekend of car break-ins. That followed a decline earlier this month after they arrested five people who had stolen from multiple unlocked cars. Three of the juveniles arrested told police that stealing property from cars and garages is a growing trend because it's an easy crime.
"They call it 'car shopping,'" Goldstein said. "Kids roam the neighborhood at night and look for items of value in cars."
In Plymouth, vehicle break-ins are the most commonly reported crime. The city has used creative tactics such as the red and white fliers that look like parking tickets to catch drivers' attention about crime-prevention tips. At community events they've held contests for residents to guess the value of electronics and other commonly stolen items stashed in an unmarked police car.
Champlin Police have also seen car break-ins jump from 53 this time last year to 71 this year; residential burglaries are also up from 19 last year to 39 so far this year.
The common message from police: Don't leave things in plain view or in unlocked cars or homes. That's the case in Robbinsdale, where an uptick in car break-ins, particularly on the east side bordering Minneapolis, resulted in stolen purses, expensive laptops, GPS units -- even a loaded handgun from one unlocked car.
"It always amazes me the valuables people leave in plain view," Robbinsdale Capt. Jim Franzen said. "Probably two-thirds of these kinds of crimes ... probably never had to happen in the first place. They're crimes of opportunity."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib