ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - Thieves are constantly combing the streets of Albuquerque checking for unlocked car doors and cracked windows. Stolen cars are a big problem in the city, however, vehicle break-ins are even worse.
"Just an auto burglary alone sets off a whole wave of different crimes."
Whether they're cruising Central or getting people from one place to the next, the car culture is central to Albuquerque.
"I love my car, it's great," said Noah Silva.
The problem is thieves loves them too because there's usually something in them they can sell for a quick buck.
"It is a problem," said Albuquerque Police Officer Simon Drobik. "The thing is we don't want anybody to be a victim."
No matter where you live in Albuquerque, break-ins are a problem.
"It's very very sad because this is happening on an almost daily basis in our neighborhood," a downtown resident who does not want to be identified, told KRQE News 13.
KRQE News 13 found nearly 800 vehicle break-ins over the past four weeks on the city of Albuquerque's crime map.
The Eastside, which has a lot more homes and businesses, had a lot more break-ins than the Westside.
Hotspots for vehicle break-ins include the University of New Mexico area, Midtown, and Uptown.
But the break-ins are just the start.
"Just an auto burglary alone sets off a whole wave of different crimes," said officer Drobik.
The wave of other crimes often stems from what the thieves are getting their hands on from vehicles.
"A couple of seconds and they have all your information," Drobik explained. "Your purse, your phone, and you can imagine all the problems that comes with it."
Identity theft and fraud are among concerns many victims have if their credit cards or personal information are taken from their cars.
Addresses, keys, and garage door openers left in a vehicle can lead to home burglaries.
But there's something else crooks are looking for.
"A lot of times they're targeting these high-value trucks because they know that guys have guns in them," explained officer Drobik.
Since New Mexico is an open carry state, people can keep guns in their vehicles. But all too often, they're ending up in the wrong hands.
"We have seen them used in other crimes or sold on the street, untraceable. Because if somebody doesn't have a serial number on them, we can't put that into NCIC, the National Crime Information Center," Drobik added.
That means if someone uses that stolen gun in another crime, police can't trace it or charge the criminal with possession of a stolen firearm, a felony.
Untraceable guns are floating around the streets of Albuquerque.
A Crime Prevention Specialist for the APD Foothills Area Command in Albuquerque recently warned online, "Leaving any firearm unsecured is a tragedy waiting to happen."
"This is why we have tactics when we pull over vehicles, we know there's weapons in cars and that's fine. Have a weapon in your car, it's an extension of home - you have every right to," said Drobik. "But secure that weapon when you leave that car."
Police say people in the community can make a difference simply by taking away the opportunity from criminals to steal anything personal. That means not leaving personal documents or items in vehicles.
Walking along any downtown street, officer Drobik said it's easy to see what thieves might target.
"This guy's got stuff just laying in his back seat here, unfortunately," he said, pointing to a car parked on the street.
KRQE News 13 found shopping bags, purses left out in the open, backseats full of tempting boxes, and what looks like brand new electronics.
One downtown resident said she left nothing in sight, and still became a victim.
"Everything was in the trunk, the only thing that I did have was a cup of coffee," the woman said.
The woman told KRQE News 13 it happened in broad daylight after she went inside her home for about five minutes.
She said thieves broke the lock on her car door, popped her trunk, and made off with her laptop.
"It cost me a little bit under $2,500 to repair all the damage that they had done to the vehicle," the woman recalled.
She now has surveillance cameras outside her home.
Officer Drobik said thieves usually want the quick, quiet, easy way in, so they check for unlocked door handles which is why they often flock to parking lots.
"If you hit 100 cars and you get four cars that open up, you hit the jackpot," said Drobik.
It's no secret many of the thieves commit these crimes to feed a drug habit. Police also point to the justice system and repeat offenders as well.
"That's the numbers that surprise me is how many times have we arrested this guy this year for the same crime," said Drobik. "Eight times, 9 times, a dozen times, and then those property crimes turn into violent crimes crimes."
Many of those crimes, police said, can often be prevented by keeping an empty car and keeping an eye out for neighbors.
"Don't let these crooks win," officer Drobik added. "We're not putting any blame on victims. We just want to educate people and remind them to take property out of their vehicles, because crooks will take it if they see an opportunity."
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