On June 15, a 2015 Toyota Camry, valued at $15,000, was taken from outside a home on Kenmore Drive. The owner of the vehicle had left it unlocked with the keys inside.
Suspects in the theft — who range in age from 13 to 15 — were found with the car on Wednesday and are believed to be connected to a string of auto burglaries along Watauga and Catawba streets. Police records show that in those incidents, unlocked cars made it simple for prowlers to swipe cameras, cash, credit cards and prescription pills.
According to a resident who contacted the Times News, neighbors had been keeping each other abreast of the months-long crime wave through the Nextdoor social networking platform. Security footage was also posted to YouTube.
However, a check of Kingsport Police Department records shows only three auto burglaries were actually reported to authorities, and none since April.
"If criminal activity is not reported, we can neither investigate it nor take appropriate steps to prevent it in the future," says KPD Public Information Officer Tom Patton.
At about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, an officer on patrol spotted the stolen Camry parked diagonally on Catawba Street. It had a flat tire, while nearby three boys and a girl were trying to break into another Camry. Police presume they were trying to steal that car’s spare.
The children fled, according to police, but were rounded up following foot pursuits. Each is now charged with possession of stolen property and auto burglary. An investigation into the auto burglaries is ongoing.
Last year, there were 314 vehicle thefts in Kingsport, along with 504 reported auto burglaries. Patton says that in nearly every case, victims made themselves an easy mark by leaving doors unlocked and valuables lying in plain sight.
And while police advocate neighborhood watches and social networking as tools to help keep communities safe, Patton cites a troubling of people becoming too reliant on digital means.
“Recently we have started seeing citizens talking about crime in their neighborhood with their neighbors, and even sharing photos and videos of suspects with their neighbors, yet failing to provide any of this information to the police,” Patton said. “It is perfectly fine, and even encouraged, to share information with your neighbors online, but it is even more critical to pick up the phone and call the police and file an incident report.”