By Claire Byun
Cheap technology used by criminals to unlock car doors – without a key – is contributing to the rash of auto burglaries around Mid-City, and several residents addressed city leaders to help stem the crimes.
City Councilmember Susan Guidry, who represents District A, held a town hall Thursday afternoon to discuss public safety and crime. Commanders from three New Orleans Police Department districts made brief presentations on crime statistics and prevention tips. About 50 people attended the meeting – held at St. Central Matthew United Church of Christ in Uptown – and could ask questions of Guidry, the police or even local court officials.
For live coverage of the meeting, click here.
Morgan Clevenger, president of Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association, wanted to know what officials can do about the rash of auto burglaries around Mid-City. She told Guidry that a neighbor witnesses a group of children who broke into a car on their way to school.
The children could get into the locked car without breaking any windows, Clevenger said.
“Some people do have the ability to access your key fob, and that’s not new,” said NOPD First District Commander Hans Ganthier.
Nearly two years ago, NOPD officers explained how burglars can break into cars using new technology. Many newer models of cars use a remote key fob — not an actual key — to unlock their doors. When the key fob gets close enough to the vehicle, the doors unlock automatically.
But when the car is parked at a house with the owner and his or her key fob inside, auto burglars can use the technology against them. Criminals can use amplifiers to get signals from keys inside to unlock car doors outside, an officer told Bayou St. John residents.
Ganthier suggested moving the key fob further away from the car or even wrapping it in aluminum foil to block the signal. Clevenger argued that there’s a better solution.
“If police and government can just communicate, maybe talk with the car manufacturers and see what they say, maybe they can figure this out,” she said.
Auto burglaries decreased 19 percent in 2016 from the prior year around the First District. More than 50 auto burglaries have been reported so far this year, with 27 coming from just the last four weeks, Ganthier said.
Some of that crime is because of the high traffic surrounding Mardi Gras, but most of it stems from people not locking their car doors or leaving guns, purses and other valuables in plain view.
“If you’re going to leave your valuables out, please just leave them on the roof or something,” Ganthier said.
Ganthier said his force is focusing all of their efforts on stemming the rash of vehicle break-ins. Guidry suggested making the Fairgrounds special patrols more aware of the issue and working with residents to help stop the property crimes.
“I’m focusing on it, I know [NOPD] is focusing on it, and I hope it’s something that we can clear up very soon,” Guidry said.