Many South Hills residents fail to lock out easy theft

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The click of a button or a twist of a key could help eliminate the rashes of thefts of loose change, GPS units and even the occasional firearm from vehicles across the South Hills.

The solution that seems simple has become one that local police chiefs have begun to repeat all too often during public meetings and as they give reports of crime in the areas.

“Lock your vehicles. Lock your homes,” Baldwin Borough police Chief Michael Scott reiterated to residents at a council meeting last month.

The message is the same one shared by police chiefs across the region who say that thefts from motor vehicles nearly all come with one common denominator: an unlocked door.

The unlocked doors of cars, parked in a driveway or abutting the curb at night, provide easy access to possessions — such as cash and digital cameras — and create an opportune moment for those looking to get away with a quick steal, Pleasant Hills police Chief Edward Cunningham said.

“It is frustrating,” Cunningham said. “There's somebody out there that obviously they're passing by all of the cars that are locked. If they would just lock their cars, we wouldn't have a problem here.”

The thefts from unlocked vehicles come in spurts and the incidents happen in communities across Western Pennsylvania, chiefs from across the region said.

“We may have had one or two in the last four or five years where the vehicles were locked,” Scott said.

Baldwin Borough and Whitehall police are working together on leads in a case after a rash of motor vehicle thefts in the two municipalities last month, Scott said.

Residents from Irwin, Scenery, Gerry and Brentview drives in Baldwin Borough reported their vehicles were ransacked and items taken in mid-September. In all, at least 13 vehicles were entered in one night in the area, according to police reports.

Items taken included GPS units, cash and change, and knives.

There was a rash of thefts from motor vehicles in Brentwood several weeks ago, as well, police Chief Robert Butelli said.

“Usually before Christmas or the holidays is a big time,” he said.

As in the other communities, the vehicles in Brentwood nearly all were unlocked, as well, the chief said.

“We have very few where they actually break a window,” Butelli said.

Catching a person entering unlocked vehicles at night is hard because they're quiet, and if even the headlight of a passing vehicle shines nearby, the person typically ducks or flees, Cunningham said.

In Pleasant Hills, where about 9,000 people live, there were 51 thefts reported from motor vehicles so far this year, Cunningham said. The thefts included the stealing of three guns, he said.

“It's frustrating because it's so simple to prevent,” Cunningham said.

A South Hills resident was arrested earlier this year after being accused of entering vehicles and after that, the number of such thefts reported in the borough dropped, for now, Cunningham said. The Pleasant Hills chief said unlocked vehicles likely are targeted because the thief doesn't have to carry a crowbar or hammer, which could lead to an additional charge of possession of an instrument of crime if someone is caught.

“They don't want to create the attention,” Scott said. “It's a crime of opportunity.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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