SPRINGFIELD, Mo. For the first time ever, Springfield is among the top 10 metro areas in the country for car thefts per capita.
And among the victims of auto theft, one woman in the area is frustrated with the way her case was handled.
Living in a west Springfield neighborhood just a few blocks off Scenic Avenue, Melissa Perritt has twice had her car stolen. The latest came on Sunday and was captured by her newly installed security cameras.
The video shows a man with keys to her car, which she assumes he acquired from the previous theft, stealing it again. After posting video clips on Facebook, she found the location of her stolen car in a residential garage.
"The people there say 'we don't know what you're talking about'," Perritt said.
So she called police, who told her she could come and pick up her car at that same location. But she says when she arrived expecting someone to be arrested, "the police said no one (was getting picked up) because they weren't driving the car," Perritt said. "And I was like, what? It's parked in their garage, backed up, with another car blocking it in. Is there not a possession of a stolen vehicle?"
Police say they can't comment on the case because the investigation is still on-going. But that it takes time to have physical evidence tested at the state crime lab and build a solid case based on more than just circumstantial evidence.
"That process is relatively slow, especially if you're the victim," explained Lt. Jason Laub of the Springfield Police Department's Vehicle Theft Unit. "There's really no sense of urgency just to grab one piece of evidence and take off running with it. We want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row before we present something in front of a judge."
Asked if that made her feel better about her case?
"Maybe some," Perritt replied. "I guess it's just really hard when you go to pick your car up and the people who have it hid out in their garage who told you just hours before that they didn't know what you were talking about are now looking at you smiling like they've gotten away with something."
As for that report released Thursday by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, it shows that for the first time Springfield ranks in the top 10 nationally for car thefts per capita with 581 per 100,000 population. That's a 51% increase in the past two years which places Springfield second in the state behind St. Joseph.
The report offers tips for avoiding your car being stolen, recommending that you making sure you roll up your windows all the way, don't hide keys in-or-on your car, get an On-Star type system so your car can be tracked down if its stolen, and have your Vehicle Identification Number VIN) etched into your window or door as well as an alarm system.
Local authorities also stress that many car thefts these days take place when people make quick stops at the convenience store.
"It's not uncommon for people to pull up to a gas station, leave the car running, run inside and grab a quick drink, come outside and it's gone," Laub said. "We're living in a day and age where you can't do that anymore so we encourage people to just lock their cars, roll up the windows, and take that extra time and it will save them that extra heartache in the future."