By MARY RAINWATER
A group of Palestine citizens concerned about a rash of automobile burglaries in the area met with Palestine Police Department leaders and officers Tuesday for a town hall meeting.
Targeted for Palestine residents in the city’s District 6, represented by Councilman Steve Presley, the meeting included presentations from PPD Chief Robert Herbert, Sgt. James Muniz, Community Relations Officer Patsy Smith, Det. Cathy Weber and Officer Fernando Nino.
Sgt. Muniz, an investigator with the PPD, opened talks at the meeting, presenting a “rundown” on the department’s work on auto burglary cases.
“In January and February, there were about 65 car burglaries reported citywide — that is about one report a day,” Muniz said. “About five of those were cases in which the car windows were actually smashed, which means the remaining 60 burglaries occurred in cases where the car was not locked.”
Muniz reported that some arrests have been made — a group of vehicle burglary suspects were recently arrested, but they usually make bond quickly.
“We can’t just keep someone in jail until we are ready for them,” he explained.
Muniz also said that, when talking to suspects, most of them reported that they don’t want to do damage to the vehicle — that they pull their sleeve over their hands and lift door handles until one of them opens.
“These could have probably been prevented,” Muniz said. “While we feel we should be able to leave our cars unlocked in our own driveways, it is 2013 and crimes from the big cities have trickled their way to small towns.”
Muniz reminded citizens of the importance of reporting crimes to the police department.
“I have heard people tell me over and over, ‘We didn’t want to bother you,’” he said. “But you have to bother us. If you don’t call and report a crime, we can’t help.
“If you see something, no matter how small you think it is, call us.”
Officer Nino, who works with Det. David Kassaw in the PPD’s Crime Prevention Program, spoke to attendees about the security surveys officers conduct for city residences and businesses.
“We look over the property or business and offer them ideas on crime prevention,” Nino said. “Some insurance companies offer discounts to those who have had a survey done.”
Nino shared a few tips for homeowners about how to prevent home and vehicle burglaries — the number one regarding proper lighting.
“Burglars hate lighting. If people can see them, they don’t want to be there, so they look for shadowed areas to make entry,” Nino said, suggesting the addition of sensor lights around homes and the placement of deer cameras around trees.
“I have driven around this area myself at night and seen homes in pitch black, with garage doors open,” Chief Herbert said. “It is important to double check and make sure your property is secure.”
Det. Weber, who works property crimes for the PPD, talked to citizens about the importance of documenting serial numbers of household items, so that if an item is stolen the chances of recovery are increased.
“Take pictures of the item and then of the serial number. Take pictures of jewelry,” she said. “If the item has no serial number, carve your name or driver’s license number or a personal identification mark you chose into the item — anything that can help identify the item as yours.”
Herbert wrapped up the meeting by encouraging citizens to get involved in working with the police department.
“We cant be everywhere, every place every minute of the day,” the chief said. “Get involved with us and help us out. Share what you learned today with your neighbors.
“By leaving our cars unlocked, homes dark and garage doors open, we are leaving ourselves open to crime and feeding the habits of those criminals,” he continued. “We don’t want to give Palestine to criminals — let’s make it ours.”
Also during Monday’s meeting, officer Smith spoke to attendees about the PPD’s newest program, Citizens on Patrol, a 12-week program held weekly on Tuesdays beginning April 2.
“The Citizens Police Academy helps you as citizens get inside the department — to go behind the scenes and see what we do,” she said. “Participants help observe and report crimes as they happen. They are just another set of eyes and ears out there.”
Applications are now being accepted for those interested in being a part of the COP program. Applications may be picked up at Palestine City Hall, Palestine Visitors Center, the Palestine Public Library and the Palestine Police Department.
Applications are due on Monday at the PPD. For more information, call 903-729-2254.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com