The Juneau police are sending late-night bike patrols into the Mendenhall Valley to curb a recent rash of thefts.
Lt. Jerry Nankervis said the police this summer began putting bike-riding patrol officers in the Valley after midnight to dissuade would-be "car-hoppers," thieves - usually groups of teens - who rifle vehicles, looking to steal.
"They (teens) usually come out between midnight and 2:30 a.m. when we get pretty busy downtown - especially on the weekends when the bars let out," said Nankervis.
"When we have the manpower, we've been sticking some bikes out in the Valley. It seems to work. You can hear a car coming, especially a police car, they just sound different. But a bike is harder to hear. So we're hoping we are able to catch more of them this way."
Nankervis wouldn't say how often or the times that bike cops patrol.
According to Juneau police records, 84 thefts were reported in April citywide, 94 were reported in May and 101 were reported in June - 23 more than in June 2001.
Nankervis attributes the increase of thefts in the summer to warmer weather and school being out. Teens out for the night will choose vehicles to steal from because of the easy access and low risk, he said.
"It seems less illegal to a kid to steal from a car than to break into a house," he said. "Typically they like to steal things like sunglasses, change, car stereos, speakers - things people don't generally keep a serial number on, so it is harder to trace - and things they can use."
Nankervis said he didn't know the recovery rate for stolen property. But police make weekly trips to local pawn shops to recover stolen items and to try to identify the thieves.
"If they try to pawn the stuff we will get a hit on that," Nankervis said. "Either the pawn dealer will give us a call with something he thinks might be stolen, and give us a description of the people trying to pawn it, or it'll show up in the daily reports we get from the shops. We also try to make weekly visits."
Shelly Patten, manager of the Checkmate Pawn Shop in the Valley, said she helps the police because it helps her business.
"It doesn't do me any good to accept stolen merchandise, give someone money for it, only to have the police come and confiscate it," said Patten. "Then I'm out the merchandise and the cash, and I've got nothing. It's not worth it."
Patten said she keeps a list of reported stolen items on the wall next to the cash register and checks it and the serial numbers of merchandise regularly. She said she won't accept any merchandise without making a copy of the customer's photo ID.
"That way the police can find them if the stuff does turn out to be stolen," she said. "When I catch one that I think has something stolen, I try to keep them in the store and call the police. I don't tell them what I'm doing. They don't really want to stay if they know."
The best way to prevent thefts from vehicles is not to leave anything of value in them, Nankervis said.
"It's best, if you don't want something stolen, to just take it inside," he said. "Obviously, locking your car doors also helps, but that's usually how you get your windows broken in. If someone wants it bad enough, they'll get it, whatever way they have to."
To report stolen items or suspicious activity call police at 586-0600.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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