Gone in 40 Seconds

While sunglasses, purses, and computers left in often-unlocked vehicles lure opportunistic burglars, pilfering parts instead proves profitable for many thieves working the Park Cities and Preston Hollow.

A review of crime reports from the Highland Park Department of Public Safety and University Park and Dallas police departments finds frequent thefts of parts such as side mirrors, tailgates, wheels, and especially third-row seats.

Most cases involve unlocked vehicles parked in driveways or streets in front of their owners’ homes.

From June 2016 through May, Preston Hollow averaged nearly four stolen-parts cases a month and Highland Park two. University Park, with a higher population total and density than Highland Park, averaged nearly six.

Fencing parts isn’t new, but trendy targets vary over time.

“The radios, stereos — that was the trend years ago,” said Lita Snellgrove, crime prevention officer in University Park, where third-row seats are more commonly stolen now.

According to uptexas.org, thieves target pre-2015 General Motors products — Suburban, Tahoe, and Yukon models, along with Cadillac Escalades — and sell the easily-removed seats on Craigslist, eBay, or area swap meets.

(Courtesy: Ebay)

“Visit eBay, where you will be amazed by the number of third-row seats available,” Highland Park Lt. Lance Koppa said.

A quick search found seats listed for $250, $575, $837, or more. By comparison, going to a dealership to replace a seat can cost up to $4,000, according to an ABC News report.

“We’ve talked to individuals who’ve had to buy a used one, and they go, ‘I hate to think I bought my old one back,’ ” Koppa said.

ABC’s 2012 story tracking the rise of such thefts warned that thieves can pop open the back hatch, remove the third row, and be gone within 40 seconds.

“When [stealing seats] was most popular, it was very clear that was the target, because that was the only item taken, and there was other property [left in vehicles] untouched,” Koppa said.

To combat fencing of stolen property, the Dallas Police Department established a 24-hour hotline, 214-671-3322. The Major Crimes Unit seeks venues, online or otherwise, where stolen property is sold or stored, as well as names of culprits.

Even when police find stolen seats, returning them is nearly impossible unless owners have etched a vehicle identification number or similar information on the part.

Police also recommend purchasing aftermarket locks and using those to secure seats in place.

“If [crooks] can’t just move them out with ease, they are going to just move on to the next one,” Koppa said.

Manufacturers appear to have learned that. Newer models feature seats bolted to the floor, which Koppa credits for the recent decline in third-row-seat thefts.

Still, there are plenty of older SUVs on the road and other parts for thieves to target.

Koppa said taking a side mirror or the mirror glass may seem like vandalism, but it’s not.

“Somebody found the car and stole the mirror they wanted,” he said. Maybe the thief planned to sell it, or maybe someone needed a replacement, he added.

Wheels and tires, often worth thousands of dollars, also appeal to crooks.

This spring, University Park and Preston Hollow combined for more than a half-dozen instances where thieves left vehicles without tires or rims.

Stealing all four wheels may take more effort than grabbing a mirror or removing a third-row seat, but thieves can find a way to make it work, Snellgrove said.

“It does take a little bit of time, but I think they probably do work in pairs,” she said. “Maybe start on the curbside first, that way they aren’t seen from the roadway.”

Recent wheel thefts illustrate how crooks’ targets change over time.

“I think back to when I was a kid driving a car; it was the aftermarket wheels that were more valuable and popular,” Koppa recalled. Today, factory alloy wheels are often more expensive.

Recent reports estimated combined values at $3,700 for stolen wheels and tires taken off a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, and $4,000 for ones taken from a 2016 GMC Denali.

“If you get a brand-new wheel set, you could probably separate the wheels and the tires and sell them separately, because the tires in and of themselves are expensive,” Koppa said.

Buying locking lug nuts can discourage thieves, but the best prevention practice is keeping vehicles secured and out of sight — often a daunting task for families with teenage drivers and more vehicles than garage space, police say.

“Thieves are looking for those [vehicles] that are sitting out and easy to get to,” Snellgrove said.

(Cartoon illustration: William Bubba Flint)

William Taylor

William Taylor, editor of Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People, shares a name and a birthday with his dad and a love for community journalism with his colleagues at People Newspapers. He joined the staff in 2016 after more than 25 years working for daily newspapers in such places as Alexandria, Louisiana; Baton Rouge; McKinney; San Angelo; and Sherman, though not in anywhere near that order. A city manager once told him that “city government is the best government” because of its potential to improve the lives of its residents. William still enjoys covering municipal government and many other topics. Follow him on Twitter @Seminarydropout. He apologizes in advance to the Joneses for any angry Tweets that might slip out about the Dallas Cowboys during the NFL season. You also can reach him at [email protected]. For the latest news, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

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