Mercer Island Police Department Officer Lee Tortorelli evaluates a car prowl on a recent day. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island Police Department

Mercer Island Police Department Officer Lee Tortorelli evaluates a car prowl on a recent day. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island Police Department

Mercer Island Police Department on the lookout for car prowlers

Rash of crimes has hit the Island and beyond.

The numbers are staggering.

In the third week of May, the Mercer Island Police Department (MIPD) gathered the crime-mapping data from its website and counted a total of 33 car prowls in the city that month to go along with 32 in April. Criminals have smashed windows and swiped items and have entered cars through unlocked doors.

In 19 cases over the last six months, the cars weren’t just prowled, but stolen.

“I don’t know if it’s just COVID (restrictions) being lifted or what, but we have seen an increase in the car prowls over the past six months,” said Jennifer Franklin, MIPD emergency preparedness officer. “It’s not just on Mercer Island. It’s kind of everywhere.”

During the pandemic lockdown in April and May of last year, Mercer Island accumulated four car prowls in April and eight in May. In 2019, there were nine car prowls in April and 14 in May.

Over the first six months of this year, Franklin said that almost half the prowled cars were unlocked, and some owners had left the keys in their car. MIPD detectives have some leads on the crimes, but haven’t caught anyone yet, she said at post time.

“It would be great if we could, because oftentimes what we find is that the criminals that are doing it here are also doing it in other agencies or other jurisdictions, too. So it helps all of us if we can catch these guys or gals and be able to go ahead and stop it,” said Franklin, adding that police are running emphasis patrols on the Island by actively looking for car prowlers.

Firstly, Franklin encourages people to lock their cars. Next, her rule of thumb when discussing the situation with residents is to not leave anything in their car that they don’t want stolen. With the rash of car prowls on the Island and beyond in recent months, it’s a smart move for drivers to remove valuables from their cars, Franklin added.

One of the tips the MIPD released to the community is for drivers to place valuables in hiding spots before arriving at their destination.

“They’re watching people drive up and put something in the back seat and lock the car,” Franklin said of the prowlers.

Detectives explained to Franklin that there’s no discernible pattern to the crimes, which are happening at all hours of the day and night throughout the Island in parking lots, parking garages, parks, schools, businesses and driveways.

Along with the MIPD’s emphasis patrols, officers are passing out crime prevention materials. Franklin said they also need residents to call 911 if they witness suspicious activity and go beyond posting notices on Next Door or other social media platforms.

“We have neighborhood watch that we’d be happy to go ahead and do for people. We have the Lock It or Lose It campaign,” Franklin said.

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