AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Police are warning about an increase in “smash and grabs” from cars, saying they believe the thieves are from a traveling group that is targeting different areas.
According to a post on the Austintown Police Department’s Facebook page, thieves are targeting outdoor venues like parks, gyms and baseball and soccer fields. Many of the thefts happen in broad daylight with people nearby.
“Locked vehicles, unlocked vehicles, it doesn’t matter. They’re targeting vehicles that have valuables in them, purses that they can see that they know are there,” said Det. Sgt. Greg McGlynn.
In a police report taken Wednesday, officers were sent to Austintown Township Park, where at least four victims reported that purses and credit cards were taken from their vehicles. The windows of three vehicles were smashed, while another person had the windows of the vehicle down at the time.
It all happened during a youth softball game.
According to the report, the thief attempted to use the stolen cards to make several purchases.
“They usually pick busy venues with a lot of people and a lot of vehicles they can choose from,” McGlynn said.
He says it’s a multi-state criminal organization, and Austintown police are working with departments from western Pennsylvania, across Ohio and Kentucky to track these thieves.
“We had a similar incident at a township park last month. We did charge an individual. He was found to be from Florida,” McGlynn said.
It’s not just Austintown that’s affected, Mercer police say they’ve had one similar incident.
Now, investigators are warning people not to leave valuables inside cars.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s hidden, if they see a strap of a purse, they will smash the window and take your things,” the Facebook post states.
Police believe that the thieves are not from the area but are part of a traveling group that hits multiple states to commit their crimes.
They’re asking people to watch for these crimes and report them.
Deborah Cervone grew up in Austintown and says she’s always felt safe there.
“My first reaction was, ‘That happened in Austintown?”” she said.
Still, Cervone says she never leaves anything valuable in her car and encourages others to watch out for suspicious activity.
“Keep an eye on your neighbors and if anything looks suspicious. If you don’t say anything, nothing’s going to change,” she said.
Austintown trustee Robert Santos said they’re working with the parks department and Austintown police to increase security measures. He wants to make sure people can feel safe in their parks and public spaces.