Break-ins lesson for residents, police

Detectives drove through Center Grove area subdivisions with a vehicle break-in suspect in the backseat, and one-by-one, he pointed out houses, described the color and make of vehicles that would be in the driveway and told investigators how they were broken into.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office investigators learned of nine more vehicles that had been broken into during a crime spree this summer that has left residents replacing IDs, canceling credit cards and getting new electronics. Of at least nine vehicles that were broken into one evening, six of the owners were not aware that burglars had been inside.

Every year during the summer months, vehicle break-ins are the leading reason for calls and reports to the sheriff’s office and typically what consume most of investigators’ time, Sheriff Doug Cox said. And the quiet, dimly lit Center Grove area neighborhoods around Morgantown and Fairview roads were a hot spot for the most recent wave of incidents, most likely due to the purses, wallets, coins, cash and electronics that suspects expect to find in the vehicles.

And find they did.

Nearly 20 reports of missing or stolen property from vehicles were made over a two-week span, and the items stolen included prescription pills, spare keys, designer jewelry and purses, hundreds of dollars in cash, clothes and an iPod. Other reports were that of residents who woke up to find items of lesser value scattered across their yards, left behind by the thieves.

One suspect pawned many of the stolen items, such as power tools, string trimmers, GPS units and cellphones. During the past 90 days, that suspect has pawned 71 items investigators believe to be stolen, Bryant said. It’s one of several tell-tale signs that the Center Grove area is often hit the hardest by vehicle break-ins because the loot is usually worth the risk, Johnson County Sheriff’s Detective James Bryant said.

The suspect directed detectives to more than five vehicles the group hit in one night and told them what was taken, Bryant said. The total number of vehicles the group of three suspects broke into during the crime spree could be as high as 30, he said.

Two of the three suspects, 18-year-olds Trever L. Ellis and Stefan C. Macy, both of Greenwood, were arrested last week after turning themselves in to police when surveillance photos showed them using a stolen debit card. Police said Ellis, Macy and a third suspect involved with the investigation were shown on surveillance at a southside Kroger using the debit card stolen from a Center Grove area neighborhood.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is now working with prosecutors to file charges against the three, Bryant said.

Police also are investigating two other people who were with the three during the recent string of vehicle break-ins, Bryant said.

“People who are less fortunate know if they come to Center Grove there’s probably going to be nicer things to steal than in some other areas,” Bryant said. “Center Grove is 10 minutes from the 13th-largest city in the United States, as well, and a lot of times that’s where the majority of our crimes come from.”

Information investigators are receiving from those suspects is helping police think like burglars, discovering what deters them, what attracts them and how they operate, Cox said.

The suspects told investigators how they would hit neighborhoods, Cox said. The three teens would park in a cul-de-sac and enter housing additions on foot. The three suspects were looking solely for unlocked cars. When they went into a subdivision, if the first three vehicles they checked were locked, they would immediately leave for another neighborhood, Cox said.

They rummaged through unlocked vehicles and sorted through the items they stole when they got back to their getaway car. Undesirable items were tossed out the window as the three were leaving the neighborhood, Cox said.

When detectives asked the suspects if they broke into vehicles, the suspects said, “No, because the cars were unlocked,” Bryant said.

“These kids initially didn’t want to admit that they broke into vehicles,” Cox said. “They thought if the car is unlocked it isn’t a crime. But even if they didn’t take anything, that’s unlawful entry.”

Cox said he wants residents to be smarter about preventing their vehicle or home from being broken into. And that starts by simply locking vehicles, he said.

Removing valuables from vehicles is another way to avoid being a victim of vehicle break-ins. Taking photos of items and copying serial numbers are two ways residents can assist police in retrieving items that were stolen once they are sold to pawn shops or returning items that are later found or recovered, Cox said.

The biggest problems investigators found were residents who didn’t realize their vehicles had been broken into because there was no sign of forced entry and residents not remembering what was in the vehicle so they didn’t know items were missing, Cox said.

“We had several vehicles pointed out to us that were broken into, and when we confronted the owner they had no idea,” Cox said. “Without a victim, unless a police report was made, these suspects don’t get charged. And there should be consequences for their actions.”

Becoming proactive and keeping an eye on your neighborhood is a good start to preventing break-ins. And when you see something that isn’t right, it probably isn’t, so don’t hesitate to dial 911, Cox said.

“If you hear a sound at 2 a.m., call us. We aren’t going to punish you or arrest you if we come out and find out that sound was a cat outside,” Cox said. “We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Do not hesitate to call us. People think we are so busy and we shouldn’t be messing with these crimes, but we need people to report these things.”

Deterring car break-ins

Tips to deter vehicle break-ins

  • Lock your vehicles.
  • Park in the driveway or garage.
  • Leave an outside light on.
  • Do not leave firearms in your vehicle.
  • Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle.
  • Know what is in your vehicle, including serial numbers of electronics and other personal belongings.
  • If you see suspicious or unfamiliar vehicles, call 911.
  • If your vehicle has been broken into, make a police report.
  • If you find out your vehicle has been broken into, or you want to report a suspicious vehicle, or activity call the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office emergency line at 317-736-5155, or dial 911.
  • If residents are still hesitant of calling an emergency line, they can dial 317-736-9155.
Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2719.