The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office has seen an increase in home and vehicle burglary within the last weeks in North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township.
The common middle-of-the-night tactic being used by a group of perhaps 20 suspects is to enter a vehicle, use the garage door opener to get inside the garage and then attempt to enter the home through a service door, said Sheriff Bob Fletcher.
“There is a group from Minneapolis that has been circulating the metro area using the major highways and freeways and then hitting homes within one mile of a major highway,” Fletcher explained. Over the last few weeks, four occupied home burglaries have occurred in the area along I-35E.
With three search warrants, law enforcement found several suspects June 6, mostly juveniles, in Minneapolis. Numerous items that appeared to be stolen were found. They are expected to be charged; officers are still looking for more suspects.
Fletcher alerts residents to lock their vehicle doors, keep their garage door opener out of sight in their vehicles, and lock all doors to their homes. The suspects have been quickly entering homes and stealing purses and wallets in close proximity to service doors. Victims are often sleeping further back in the house and might not hear anything.
“At a minimum, hide your remote in your car,” Fletcher advised. “Don't have it clipped onto the visor. They are not going to spend much time looking for your remote.”
North Oaks resident Thomas Keller happened to be watching TV when he heard a loud thud about 1:30 a.m. May 20. When the sound didn't repeat itself, he went back to sleep. In the morning, he awoke to deputies at his door and his 2017 Chevrolet Silverado gone. Fortunately, deputies had already found it in White Bear Township.
The suspects had been spooked by a dog walker and fled the vehicle, and left it running. They apparently entered a garage in White Bear Township and stole another vehicle, which was found later in Savage. They also left a stolen vehicle from Crystal in the North Oaks neighborhood, Fletcher said.
Keller said the suspects pried open his truck with a special tool. His garage door opener was on the visor. The service door from the garage to the house was unlocked. They found his keys just inside the house, along with his cell phone, and took his credit cards and cash from his pants pockets. He said he was thankful his handgun happened to be locked in his office that day and not usually where he keeps it at the front door; if the suspects had gotten ahold of it, tragedy could have occurred. Now, he sleeps within three feet of it.
The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Unit noted it has also seen a general increase in reports of thefts from vehicles this spring. The office urges residents to do whatever they can to prevent “crimes of opportunity.”