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Emily Welker, Published September 14 2013

Car prowlers seize opportunities in metro

FARGO – Paulette Stalvik is standing in front of the home she bought last month in Fargo’s southside Prairiewood neighborhood as her son Alex lectures her about not locking her car.

“I told you guys, you can’t make it easier for people,” Alex told her. The 20-something has lived in Fargo his whole life, and he’s not surprised to hear about all the car break-ins in the city this year.

Paulette Stalvik lives in what the Fargo Police Department calls Beat 31. With 57 car break-ins so far this year, Beat 31 leads the city in the number of car burglaries per neighborhood.

Closely following Beat 31 is Beat 32, which lies directly to the east across 25th Street South. It had 46 break-ins during the same time period.

Many other areas of the city have reported nearly as many break-ins, largely due to people leaving their vehicles unlocked, said Fargo police crime analyst Levi Giraud.

“I come from Seattle. In my life, I’d never dream of leaving my car unlocked,” said Giraud, who started working at the police department in March.

Giraud was hired to give Fargo police an advantage in tracking and responding to crime more efficiently, said Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel.

Giraud analyzes the raw data every two weeks, looking for and eliminating false leads and errors. He then breaks it down and identifies patterns the department can use to deploy its officers and other resources more efficiently.

Giraud’s analysis shows 372 car break-ins have been reported so far this year, quite a bit higher than the total of 348 for 2012.

Unlocked cars or cars with windows left down represented 277 of the cases, or 83 percent of all break-ins this year.

Another 9 percent of victims reported having left valuables out in plain sight in their locked vehicle.

Because of these numbers, Giraud concluded that most break-ins are preventable.

He noted that many break-ins are concentrated around apartment buildings and around North Dakota State University, with their dozens of parked cars offering prowlers multiple tries.

Car prowlers usually don’t work the neighborhood they’re from, Giraud said. They drive in, almost always at night, go from car to car trying doors, “5 seconds at the most,” he said, and then move on.

On the 1400 block of West Gateway Circle, Tony Alameda isn’t surprised by the news he’s living at car prowler central. He’s been in his apartment a little longer than Paulette Stalvik, and he’s seen the police come and go several times from the adjoining parking lot.

“People don’t always lock their doors, and everyone tends to keep to themselves,” he said.

His friend, Drake Strand, lives across the street and is fanatical about locking his car doors. “But that’s because I’ve had people steal from me before,” he said. “This seems like a peaceful area.”

This has been the worst time of year for victims of car prowlers, with about 115 reports of car break-ins from mid-July to mid-August. Six resulted in arrests, Giraud said.

Stalvik said she hasn’t been taking her son’s advice that seriously so far, but the map Giraud generated has convinced her it’s time to do so.

“It is a little unnerving,” she said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541