DOWNTOWN — Large sport-utility vehicles have become a recent target of break-ins, police said, with bandits smashing windows to steal valuable third-row seats.
At least 35 similar break-in burglaries have occurred this year, often midday at busy shopping centers, according to police records. The thefts dispel the myth that this type of crime happens only in the early-morning hours and on residential streets, Police Sgt. Robert Quesada said.
Investigators received their first promising lead this month after the owner of a Chevrolet Tahoe spotted three Latino men trying to steal his third-row seat in the 3500 block of Jeffries Avenue. The owner of the vehicle, a 29-year-old Burbank man, gave chase before the suspects fled in a green Dodge van.
Since the attempted May 6 burglary, officers have set up surveillance operations, but have yet to make any arrests. The types of operations are often hit and miss unless done on a large scale, authorities said.
"There's a heightened awareness among the patrol officers and investigation bureau," Lt. Armen Dermenjian said. "But this is something that unfortunately could continue until we get some kind of a break, including good witness information."
Thieves began targeting SUVs made by General Motors last year, whose models have an optional third-row seat that takes just a few seconds to remove and has a resale value that can top $1,500.
Police identified the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade as the models most often targeted. Thieves so far are less inclined to nab the third-row seat of newer-model GMs, particularly those in which the extra bench came standard, officers said.
"The market will bear whatever the price is for those seats," Quesada said. "If they're a hot commodity, people are going to go after them."
The latest in the string of burglaries occurred about 5:45 p.m. May 15 in the parking lot of Burbank High School. The victim returned to her car and reported the third-row seat missing from her 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe. More common were burglaries in public parking lots downtown, according to the reports.
A 45-year-old Santa Clarita woman on May 8 discovered her GMC Yukon broken into and her third-row seat taken while parked in the structure at 133 E. Orange Grove Ave. A Chevrolet Tahoe belonging to a 47-year-old Los Angeles man was targeted the same day in the parking lot at 550 N. First St.
Police don't suspect the men in the May 6 incident to be involved in all of the reported burglaries, "but I'm pretty sure these guys will be good for a good amount of them," Quesada said.
Police suggested that residents who seldom use the seats to store them in the garage, not in driveways and along the side of their home where thieves have also picked them off. Officers also said motorists should lock their vehicles and report suspicious activity to police officers.
"Give us a call and let us check them out," Quesada said. "Hopefully we can get these guys with us and the community working hand and hand."