September 1, 2017 11:02:43 AM
Starkville Police Department Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady is trying to thwart would-be burglars one tweet and Facebook post at a time.
Each night, Lovelady takes to social media at 9 p.m. and reminds residents to lock their homes and cars with posts that utilize emojis and memes as a way to draw people's attention to a serious issue through a lighthearted approach.
On Aug. 14, for example, Lovelady tweeted, "Don't make it easy for burglars to access your things," along with a Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) image of a large cat struggling to fit through a small pet door.
Getting residents to develop the simple habit of securing their property each night -- the crux of SPD's #9PMRoutine social media campaign -- is the easiest way to prevent burglaries, Lovelady said.
Of the 196 auto burglaries reported to SPD in 2016, he said, about 75 percent of victims reported their vehicles were unlocked at the time of the incident.
"There are all kinds of departments doing videos about locking your doors, but this is how I wanted to do it: I wanted to make it fun, but I wanted to be honest about it. We can't pretend that this isn't happening out in our community," he said.
SPD patrol officers routinely perform security checks in neighborhoods and large apartment complexes. That visible presence helps deter burglaries, Lovelady said, but an officer cannot be in every neighborhood at all times simply due to a lack of manpower.
Proactive steps -- locking doors, hiding valuables and reporting suspicious behavior -- help fill the gap, he said.
"We can only have so many officers out at once, and then say a number of them are busy on calls. That takes away from our patrols and security checks," Lovelady said. "(The police department and the community are) a team, and we have to work together. If we're not working together, we're not going to accomplish much."
Auto burglary statistics
In six of the last eight years, the number of reported auto burglaries in Starkville has eclipsed the 150 mark.
The city reported the fewest of those break-ins in 2013 (92) and the most in 2012 (282).
Starkville is on pace to eclipse 200 auto burglaries this year since 120 incidents were reported as of June 17.
Of the 35 auto burglary incidents in 2016 that led to an arrest, about half of those arrested were juveniles.
Additionally, a majority of 2016's 196 auto break-ins occurred in the central and southern portions of town.
SPD divides the city into three zones: Highway 182 and the area north of the road (Zone 1), the area between Highway 182 and Highway 12 (Zone 2) and Highway 12 and the area south of the road (Zone 3).
Approximately 85 auto burglaries occurred last year in Zone 2, while an additional 72 break-ins occurred in Zone 3.
A majority of 2016's reported residential and commercial burglaries also occurred in both zones.
Lovelady said both Zones 2 and 3 contain many large apartment complexes, which are targets of auto burglars because of their parking lots and selection of cars.
Many would-be auto burglars simply walk up and down these parking lots and pull car door handles until they find an unlocked vehicle to burglarize.
The most common items stolen in auto burglaries are electronics -- laptops and tablets, for example -- and firearms, Lovelady said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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