GSN NEWS STAFF

The Gilbert Police Department is reminding residents to lock their car doors and remove valuables from their vehicles as the town experiences a surge in automobile-related crimes.

Department records show that Gilbert has seen a 41 percent increase in car-related thefts and burglaries from January to July over the same time period last year.

The biggest jump came in burglaries from vehicles, with incidents rising from 339 between January and July 19, 2017, to 502 in 2018. Incidents of thefts from vehicles, a separate category, rose from 71 to 83.

Motor vehicle thefts rose from 77 to 104 during the same time period.

The issue is not isolated to Gilbert, said Department spokesman Sgt. Darrell Krueger.

“We hear of it all over the Valley – all over the country, really,” he said.

Krueger said these types of thefts and burglaries are often “crimes of opportunity,” with offenders taking advantage of unlocked vehicles or possessions, such as a purse, left in plain view.

However, he said organized criminal gangs are targeting vehicles in cities throughout the Phoenix metro area.

“We are putting together cases with agencies throughout the Valley,” he said.

Krueger said the rise in vehicle-related crimes affects the entire town and is not isolated to specific neighborhoods.

However, he said, large population centers like downtown and properties that attract lots of vehicles (like larger churches, malls and schools) are more at risk.

Krueger said the department has consistently employed multiple techniques to prevent these types of crimes, including targeted enforcement and proactively informing residents who may be putting their vehicles and property at risk.

The department posts weekly on social media to remind residents to lock out burglars by keeping vehicles, homes and businesses secured whenever they are unattended.

“Along with that, in vehicles we remind them to take belongings with them or hide them out of sight,” Krueger said.

He said officers will also leave a reminder on a business card if they happen to come across an unsecured vehicle while responding to other calls or reports.

“We will leave them a thank you for practicing crime prevention or a notice as a reminder to roll up windows or keep their cars safe,” Krueger said.

The rise in crime could cause auto insurance rates to rise for Gilbert residents, though that is not a sure thing.

Jim Whittle, associate general counsel for the American Insurance Association, said that the competitive auto insurance market in Arizona may stop insurers from raising prices despite the recent rise in auto-related thefts and burglaries.

“You can understand how those competitive forces might tamp down price increases,” he said.

Whittle noted that basic auto insurance does not cover theft, which is typically included with comprehensive coverage, so customers without comprehensive coverage are less likely to see a rate increase in these situations.

Whittle said that every company has its own formula for calculating rates that includes factors like where a car is stored, what ZIP code the car is stored in and whether or not the company views the spike in theft as an aberration or a legitimate trend.

Because of this, he said, it is difficult to predict how any individual company will react to in these situations.

“However, insurers do strive hard for rates to as accurately as possible reflect risk,” Whittle said. “You have to do that to make sure you have adequate insurance premiums coming in from risky areas and are not charging less-risky people too much.”

He recommended that customers who see an increase in premiums shop around to ensure they are getting the best price for the insurance package they have chosen.