Open garage? An open invitation

The boldest of thieves break into the house knowing you're home, and police say that's often the case with a warm-weather crime that is once again on the rise in Charlotte: garage break-ins.

“We've had several where the homeowners were in the backyard, mowing the lawn, when it happened,” says Capt. Andy Leonard of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's North Division. “It just takes 15 to 30 seconds for the suspect to get what they want: in and out.”

In most cases, the culprits strike during the day and take whatever they can grab quickly, including lawn equipment, golf clubs and wallets from inside cars.

So far, there have been no reports of altercations during break-ins, but police say that may be because thieves are often creative.

“They'll say something like ‘I thought this is where Chris lives,' and then turn around leave,” says Leonard.

“They'll make up something that seems plausible, and if that doesn't work, they'll run. The best thing for people to do is get a good description and a car tag number,” Leonard said.

“We need to know that information, so we can look for suspects. They're likely going to leave one house and hit another nearby.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police released statistics earlier this month showing property crime in the county was up 10.2 percent for the first four months of 2008. Experts credit the faltering economy and predict things could worsen as the downturn continues.

Leonard notes that the rise in garage break-ins is something police typically see this time of year, because it's when people tend to leave garage doors open and unwatched.

His advice? Close the garage door.

“People have a false sense of security that a suspect won't strike if they know someone is home,” he said. “But this is the kind of crime that proves they're wrong.”