An unusual scene unfolded before dawn Tuesday on Morris Avenue, as police walked down the street, trying every car door in search of unlocked vehicles.
The sweep evolved into an early wake-up call for several residents when police rang their doorbells to tell them that their cars were unlocked. It was all an effort to arrest a man who may be responsible for the recent rash of car break-ins in the area.
The situation began around 4:40 a.m., when police got a report of a possible burglar in the area. A witness described a man walking in the street, looking into cars and possibly breaking into them. Police officers, who have been attempting to greatly improve their response times in an effort to increase arrest rates, rushed to the scene.
The fast response worked. They found a man fitting the reported description, and he was carrying stolen property. The problem: they had no idea who the victim might be.
“We recovered a piece of property,” Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said. “But we don’t have an owner.”
Without a victim, they couldn’t arrest the 58-year-old man. So they detained him while they tried to find proof that he’d stolen the item from a nearby car. Five officers fanned out with flashlights, looking for evidence of a break-in. They walked up and down Morris Avenue and Eastern Avenue, checking for unlocked car doors or broken windows. Every time they found an unlocked door, they went to the owner’s address and rang the doorbell.
Several vehicle owners were asked to search their cars for any missing items. But no one found anything amiss, Bennett said.
He did not identify the stolen item found on the suspected thief, but police were heard on the scene discussing a possibly stolen cellphone.
Authorities are now hoping the owner reports a theft. Until then, the suspect can’t be charged with a crime. “If they identify [the item] as their property, he will be arrested,” Bennett said.
In the meantime, officers told residents to keep their car doors locked. Setting a car alarm might help too — not one car alarm went off as police tried to open more than a dozen car doors.