Lexington police urge residents to lock vehicle doors
Although many people take personal belongings inside and lock vehicles every day, Lexington is on pace to have more guns stolen from vehicles than any year since 2014.
In the first seven months of this year, there were 1,088 thefts from motor vehicles in Lexington, and 132 firearms were stolen, according to police data. Firearm thefts from cars jumped 27 percent from 2015 to 2018.
“We are on pace to have the highest number of guns stolen from vehicles in five years,” Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers said.
Guns stolen from Central Kentucky vehicles have been tied to violent crimes in Lexington. In January, officers found a stolen Glock 45 pistol at the scene of a Lexington shooting. That gun was reported stolen in April 2017.
A Springfield XD that was reported stolen from a vehicle in Georgetown in May 2017 was recovered at the Centre Parkway scene of a March shooting of two juveniles.
In July 2018, Lexington officers recovered a semiautomatic pistol during the execution of a search warrant related to a shooting. The weapon was stolen three months prior when a man reported that he left his truck unlocked with the gun inside.
A gun stolen from a vehicle may not be in the hands of the thief for long. According to Lexington police Sgt. Jeremiah Davis of the auto crimes unit, the guns are typically sold or traded on the black market or to drug dealers.
“When we see guns being taken from vehicles, it’s typically not for someone to use it for their personal use,” Davis said. “If a gun is stolen from a vehicle, it is sold or traded a lot of times. If you find one on the black market or through a drug dealer, there is no formal trace of that firearm belonging to that person. These guns are highly desirable for others.”
More than 900 firearms have been reported stolen from vehicles in Lexington since 2015, according to crime data.
In 2015, 159 guns were taken compared to 222 in 2017 and 202 in 2018. Few stolen guns are recovered, police said.
It’s not just Lexington that is seeing a spike in guns stolen from cars. Last month, the Louisville Police Department said eight guns were stolen from eight vehicles — seven unlocked — during one weekend.
A survey done in May by NPR showed Atlanta, St. Louis, Kansas City and Nashville all among cities that have seen steady increases in those crimes.
“The crime overall is not new, but the volume — the amount that we’re seeing — is new,” Lt. Blaine Whited of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department told NPR. “It’s enough to shock you.” Nashville had a 70 percent jump in guns stolen from cars since 2016, NPR reported.
Most of the thefts involve vehicles that were accidentally left unlocked, according to Lexington police. Thieves often check door handles to see if cars are unlocked and look for items such as money, wallets, purses or guns.
In May, officers arrested Charles M. Smith, and Lexington police believe is responsible for hundreds of thefts from vehicles in the Lexington area. He was charged after a resident reported seeing someone check door handles and look inside vehicles in a downtown parking lot.
“Each person has their own desirable items they are trying to find inside a vehicle and each has value of some type,” Davis said. “We aren’t seeing or hearing of people going in cars for things they can’t go back and immediately use for money and/or trade or sell for drugs.”
The police department is urging the public to use a 9 p.m. routine of checking vehicles before turning in every night. Weathers said the 9 p.m. routine makes a difference, however, Davis said residents still forget to lock up vehicles.
Police emphasize the nightly checks “time and time again. It gets better, then folks forget about it again,” Davis said. “The biggest thing, the overall theme, is we are working very hard to ensure we are doing our part. However, no matter how hard our detectives work, we can’t do it all by ourselves.”