Newport police: Lock your car doors, secure valuables

Newport Beach police called attention Wednesday to a criminal trend dubbed "car hopping," where thieves drive slowly and their passengers check for unlocked car doors.

Officers said the trend has led to an increase in auto burglaries, despite the fact that most other types of crimes are down citywide in recent years.

The latest example took place Wednesday, when two men became suspected of stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and cash from unlocked cars. Police said they were touring Balboa Island in a stolen golf cart but were arrested after a foot chase.

About eight officers were involved in the arrest of Donald Steven Nelson, 21, of Costa Mesa, and Jarrad Hunter Lewis, 19, of Newport Beach, after a resident called saying a car was being broken into, said Newport Beach Police Sgt. Steve Burdette.

In addition to the cash, the suspects are believed to have taken surfboards and iPods, Burdette said.

The arrests come as police said they have seen an increase in theft from cars and burglaries, said Sgt. Evan Sailor.

Though the city has seen a decrease in other crimes over the last two decades, the spike in car hopping goes back about six months, Sailor said.

Suspects typically are juveniles who go out late at night scouring for valuables left in cars.

The practice works like this: One driver slowly drives a car while passengers try door handles of parked cars to see which ones are open, then later return to loot the car of valuables, Burdette said.

There was a 9% increase in burglaries and theft from vehicles from Jan. 1 to May 8, Burdette said.

Police could not point to many patterns.

"The crimes are happening on all days of the week, different times, different locations," Sailor said in an e-mail.

Police also point to resident complacency in protecting their valuables as a contributing factor.

"We have residents who have been victimized multiple times and still do not lock their vehicles," Sailor said.

To combat the theft rise, police are upping juvenile curfew sweeps and "trying to identify high school-aged kids that may be prone to engage in this type of behavior and intervene," Sailor said.

Police are also having plain-clothes officers work in different parts of the city overnight.

Plain-clothes officers were involved in the arrest Wednesday.

As a result of the increase, Newport Beach police have started an education campaign to remind residents to protect their valuables. About two weeks ago police placed one sign on West Coast Highway and another at Newport Boulevard and Via Lido with reminders to drivers to protect their valuables.

Police recommend that residents remove valuables from plain sight in their vehicles, lock their doors and close windows and sunroofs — and then double check.

"We will continue to aggressively target these crimes and suspects throughout the summer months," Sailor said.

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