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Spring here? Better lock your car doors

Cabin fever seems to have struck just about everyone this year -- criminals included.

The recent warmer weather has apparently coaxed petty thieves out around the community. Of the 24 reports taken last week, two were for burglaries and nine were for thefts. Most of those thefts were from vehicles.

Farmington detective sergeant Lee Hollatz said all of the incidents are crimes of opportunity. None of the recent cases has involved anything like smashing windows or breaking locks to gain access. All are the result of unlocked cars or open garages.

Usually, the thieves -- sometimes teens, sometimes moving alone or in a small group -- walk the streets late at night. They pull on car door handles to see if the vehicle is open. Finding an unlocked vehicle, they do quick sweep, taking anything of value -- iPods, checkbooks, purses, laptops and sunglasses are among the items taken in the past.

In some cases, the thieves come across a home where the garage door is open or unlocked. They go into the attached garages and steal whatever they find interesting. But once they enter an attached garage, the theft becomes a burglary because, in the eyes of the law, they have entered a dwelling.

"These guys walk up and down the streets and look around for open garages," Hollatz said. "If the opportunity is there, they're going to commit the crime."

It is not an unusual crime, either. Every year, Farmington police see an increase in thefts from vehicles and garage burglaries during the warmer months, he said. The number of thefts and burglaries do not necessarily increase from year to year. But they do not decrease, either.

"What does surprise us is how many vehicles are left unlocked and garages open," Hollatz said. "If everybody in town followed those rules of locking the doors on their vehicles and houses, these types of crimes would go way down and we'd have less victims."

So far this year, most of the cases reported have been in the northern part of Farmington. Officers patrol the areas, Hollatz said, but it is not like the thieves are going to stay out in the open when police cars are passing by. That is why Farmington police are asking for help from residents -- to make sure their vehicles and homes are locked at night, and to report any suspicious people or activity in their neighborhoods.

Farmington is not alone these days. Hollatz said he has spoken with law enforcement officers in Rosemount, Apple Valley and Lakeville and all report an increase in the same kinds of crimes these days.

"Could it be the same group? Sure. Could it be different groups? Sure," he said.

"We usually see an increase in activity when it first gets nicer outside. It's almost as if your criminals have a little cabin fever and they need to get out. We've seen this before."