COURTHOUSE – People in the city’s rural reaches are urged to be extra vigilant in the wake of thefts from cars – and thefts of cars – in the Pungo area, though some residents want police to increase their presence here.
The media has covered auto thefts or larcenies from cars, which have happened in Ashville Park, Creeds and Sandbridge, among other places. Meanwhile, locals on social media formed a Facebook group to share information about suspicious activity.
Tension over a perceived increase in crime, as well as a few rumors police cannot substantiate, was clear during the monthly town hall meeting hosted by City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, on Thursday, May 6.
During the forum and in interviews this past week, police reported that incidents, including some on Grandon Loop in Ashville Park, reinforce a point officials have made repeatedly in public meetings, particularly those of the citizens advisory committee for the First Precinct.
Two major points are these: lock your car, and don’t keep your gun there.
In one of the three instances in Ashville Park, a handgun and other items were stolen from a vehicle, according to city police. Thieves made off with a handgun and some cash in another. Master Police Officer Jimmy Cason, a police spokesperson, wrote in an email that “it is imperative” citizens remove valuables and weapons from their cars, lock vehicles and remove spare keys.
In a matter of days, the new Facebook group formed after the thefts had 500 members and counting, and its administrator made it private. Some members of Blackwater Watch, as it is called, have said they will be alert. Others have discussed patrolling the area or even eventually setting up a neighborhood watch.
The organizer of the group, who declined to confirm his name due to concerns about reprisal from the criminals, said on Wednesday, May 25, that he is not endorsing patrolling by individuals, but members are sharing information. Some of that information at the Facebook page, such as theories about who may be behind the criminal activity, could not be confirmed by police.
The organizer said some members hope for more police patrols in the area, and he has urged people to use caution.
Police Capt. David Squires, commanding officer of the First Precinct, discussed the recent incidences during the May 26 meeting that became heated when residents asked for additional patrols in the rural communities. Squires said it was possible to assign liaisons to those communities, but he said he believed staffing was appropriate for the area. He also said two arrests have been made by detectives in connection to some of the cases, though no details were provided due to ongoing investigations.
Squires went over crime statistics in the area for larcenies from buildings, larcenies from cars and thefts of motor vehicles.
The numbers covered areas south of General Booth Boulevard, roughly, and covered periods from January to May this year and last. They were mixed, with some areas up and others down.
He also offered another set of statistics. Of 40 thefts from vehicles in various communities, 75 percent of the cars were unlocked. And, of 12 recent motor vehicle thefts, nine incidents involved the thieves using the keys.
“Please lock your cars,” Squires said.
And three guns were stolen.
“I’m not blaming the victims here, but those are three guns we don’t want in the criminal economy,” the captain said.
The numbers were not a shock to people who have attended citizens advisory committee meetings for the precinct, during which Squires discusses such issues. In early May, he discussed ways citizens can make it harder to become victims, such as reporting suspicious activity to police, removing weapons from cars and locking doors. He said most recent thefts from cars in the precinct were from unlocked cars.
Some citizens at the meeting on Thursday, May 26, said calls for help have not yielded enough of a response by police. Squires said police were also looking into an incident in which officers were not promptly alerted to a citizen complaint about suspicious activity.
People in the audience said there is a sense that the rural areas are vulnerable because they aren’t constantly patrolled. When Squires said two officer routinely patrol the zones, some in the room said it seemed far too few. One man, who declined to give his name, said people were “on eggshells” due to the sense their communities are vulnerable.
Among those in the audience was Pungo’s Jon King, who said thieves recently stole from his car. They took his GPS and his keys. “They took the keys but not the car,” King said. It cost about $500 to have two cars re-keyed.
The criminals may have been scared off because King later found an abandoned purse, which he turned over to police.
King said leaving his car unlocked was his responsibility, but he was among the residents who said more police presence is needed in rural communities.
“Have more than two people for the zones,” he said.
© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC