MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Car break-ins are skyrocketing in Memphis, happening at all hours and causing havoc and headaches for far too many.
Memphis Police say as of February, police took more than 1,300 reports — 500 more than the same time last year.
Chris Eden, who owns Eden Auto Glass on Lamar, said he thinks the real number is likely much higher, because a lot of customers don’t file a police report if nothing was taken.
“The police have said there’s already an uptick in car break-ins this year, but I would say 50% are not reported. I bet the number police have is probably double,” he said.
Eden said it can take days, even weeks, to repair broken windows, and the glass for some car models is hard to get.
“We are probably getting at least 100 calls a day on break-ins, and we get about 20% of that,” he said. “We are having a hard time getting the glass, especially for the Hyundais and the Kias. We are having to order it from the dealerships or from out of town.”
Thieves have hit cars in every corner of the city, and it seems nowhere is immune. Not even churches.
“Started of like any other Sunday morning. We had a wonderful time in worship,” said Senior Pastor Andre Johnson at Gifts of Life Ministries. “And we went outside to discover that some cars were vandalized.”
He showed us the pictures he took. Several windows were smashed. The owners’ hearts were broken.
“I felt violated of course,” said Johnson. “Because we have been together as a church for 20-plus years and nothing like this has ever happened before. Ever.”
Other churches in Raleigh reported car break-ins that same Sunday morning. According to the city’s crime tracker, Memphis police took nearly 20 reports of thefts from motor vehicles that day.
It’s a problem happening nationwide. But in Tennessee, police say, this trend really began in 2014, when a law went into effect allowing people to carry guns in their cars. Soon after, people started leaving their firearms unsecured in their vehicle and thieves caught on.
MPD says those guns are what thieves are after. There’s been a steady rise in firearms stolen from vehicles since 2014. More than 12,000 guns in all have been reported stolen — more than 500 stolen so far this year.
MPD says those guns account for 40% of the guns used in crimes and believe if people secured their guns, crime would decrease.
Police are asking people to store their gun in a lock box if they leave it in a car. Also, lock your vehicle and park in well-lit areas.
“The vast majority are committed by juveniles. No doubt about it,” Memphis Shelby Crime Commission President Bill Gibbons said.
He said it’s not easy to address that problem. He believes intervention must occur immediately after the first offense and consequences should be more stern for repeat offenders. Police agree.
“[We] write them a juvenile summons, and a week later or two weeks later catch them in a stolen car breaking into a vehicle and it becomes a repetitious cycle,” said Memphis Police Col. Stephen Chandler.
MPD said last year, they made more than 1,000 arrests.
Adults are also responsible, like one pair accused of more than two dozen car break-ins last year. One of them had been arrested for the same thing before.
Meanwhile, frustration is mounting. A viewer shared a picture with us of a car parked off Winchester with a cardboard sign in the dashboard that had a stern warning: “No guns in Car!!! So leave my **** alone !!!”
Pastor Johnson said he hopes to have a candid conversation with those responsible to find out why they were so desperate to hit a sacred site.
“Maybe we can begin to understand to help others feeling that way,” he said.
He believes if we don’t get to the root of the problem, this crime will continue to make victims of us all.