TURLOCK — Burglars are breaking into cars to steal everything from ashtray change to gym clothes.
In its most recent community newsletter, The Turlock Police Department issued a warning about a marked increase in auto burglaries over the past few weeks. Modesto police are seeing the same trend.
"We've been getting hit pretty hard," said Turlock crime prevention officer Taryn Weatherford. She warned car owners that people will steal things that don't seem worth the effort. "People break in for change all the time. Or empty cigarette cartons that they think have cigarettes in them."
Some businesses, including the InShape fitness center on Geer Road, are warning customers about a rash of break-ins.
Sgt. Nino Amirfar said burglaries in general in Turlock are up 31 percent over last year, though crime overall is down. "That translates to 160 more incidents this year so far than all of last year," he said.
Modesto also has seen an upswing in burglaries, Sgt. Brian Findlen said.
Burglary reports have increased 6.1 percent this year. As of the end of September, 1,770 car and residential burglaries were reported in Modesto, compared with 1,660 during the same period last year.
"Car burglaries are one of the biggest issues and one of the most preventable," Amirfar said.
Turlock police Chief Gary Hampton said the problem has been getting so out of hand that his department is planning to set up bait cars with items in them, then monitor them for potential burglars.
Weatherford said thieves will take paperwork, seeking information to use for identity theft.
"I spoke at a Neighborhood Watch meeting Tuesday, and someone there had their passport stolen," she said.
With the holiday shopping season approaching, there are more potential victims out there.
"These burglars sit in the parking lots and watch people," Weatherford said. Shoppers feel like they're safe if they put their purchases in the trunk, out of sight. "But they only have to smash your window to pop your trunk open," she said.
"What is a red flag is when you go out to your car and put things in your trunk and then go back shopping," he said.
Weatherford suggested shoppers make trips home with them in the car. "Or put your kids to work and have them help you carry what you buy."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.