Village Manager Paul Schofield told the Wellington Village Council on Tuesday that a recent uptick in auto thefts and auto burglaries has been thwarted by a continuing operation that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is conducting.
“I asked that the PBSO take a look at what they could do,” Schofield said. “There was an interdiction done this past weekend that was pretty successful.”
Wellington’s District 8 commander, Capt. Rolando Silva, said the PBSO put together Operation Vigilance with collaboration among his deputies and some from District 9 in Royal Palm Beach, the Violent Crimes Division, the Gang Unit, the South Florida Task Force and the Robbery Division.
“The action plan has been put in place for a week, and I’m not going to tell you when it is going to end, but it’s going to go on for a little bit,” Silva said. “What it’s doing is bringing all these units to the table so there is good communication, and the nature of the operation is covert. We’re going to do surveillances, both rolling and standing surveillance.”
The team executed an operation one recent weekend that resulted in three felony arrests, seven misdemeanors, drug seizures and 12 criminal citations.
“We’re making good progress, and it is true, we had an uptick in vehicle burglaries starting from the beginning of this year,” he said. “Starting from [Jan. 1], we had 29 in one week, which was almost unprecedented. We really haven’t had those kinds of numbers in Wellington. Of those, 21 were unlocked cars, so if there is a message to take away to give to everyone, it’s don’t make it easy for them. Let’s lock our cars at night, and that’s when this stuff is occurring.”
Silva noted that it is easy for one person to get through a neighborhood quickly and burglarize dozens of vehicles simply by pulling on door handles to see if the car is locked.
The following week, auto burglaries were down to 13. “This last week, we’re down to seven,” he added.
Schofield noted that when auto thefts are reported, a significant number of them are of golf carts, which are included in the vehicle theft reports.
“It would be very helpful if those folks who have golf carts could take the keys out of them,” he said. “They are very easy to take. Remove the temptation, if possible.”
“That also applies to big cars,” Silva said, suggesting that keys be kept in the home at night.
Silva pointed out that some newer cars with retractable outside rearview mirrors are easy to detect as having the keys inside them when the mirrors are still out.
Mayor Anne Gerwig asked about circumstances of stolen cars, and Silva said that many of them had keys in the vehicle.
“This operation is designed to deal with that issue as well,” he said. “In fact, one of our vehicles stolen out of the Village of Royal Palm was located in Belle Glade. That’s when we started to develop the intelligence that was a nexus to the communities out west, out in Belle Glade. We recovered a car there. We recovered a cellphone that was in the car that belonged to one of the perpetrators. We got a search warrant… and it’s tying us in to other cases.”
Gerwig said one of the issues is that golf carts and mini-bikes are not equipped with locating devices that can be easily installed.
“It’s not very expensive to do,” she said. “We really recommend that.”
Vice Mayor John McGovern asked residents to do their part.
“The number-one takeaway here is, ‘Lock your car,’” he said. “And the number-two is that the Operation Vigilance plan is in place from now into the foreseeable future, and you put this in place upon seeing this trend change.”
Silva said the hours are late for the team.
“This is tough,” he said. “A lot of the guys who work typically evening hours are working into the wee morning hours because, unfortunately, that’s when a lot of this stuff is happening, but so far so good. This plan seems to be working, but we still need to remind ourselves to get out there and lock the cars, and just be vigilant.”