'Door-handle grabbers' strike in Bayou View

GULFPORT -- At least 16 auto owners in Bayou View are the victims of what police call door-handle grabbers.

They're thieves who walk the streets checking for unlocked doors to see if vehicles have items that are easy to steal, such as change and sunglasses.

Most of the thefts in Bayou View were reported Oct. 6, with a few the next day. Police believe the thefts from cars and pickup trucks occurred within a 24-hour period.

They were the only thefts of that type reported in the city both days, according to the Gulfport Police Department's online crime-mapping program.

"It wasn't smashing windows or things you'd think of as being a burglary," police Sgt. Damon McDaniel said. "It was merely thefts because people didn't lock their vehicles and made themselves targets.

"There were no car stereos or anything of that nature taken. Just loose items."

It's rare for the city to have a large rash of thefts from vehicles in a single neighborhood, he said.

Eighteen similar crimes were reported citywide in the past week. Most were in areas around or east of U.S. 49 from Polk Street to O'Neal Road. Four were in Orange Grove's Reservation and Windsong neighborhoods, where other crimes included an auto theft and the theft of a truck's unlocked tailgate.

The tailgate theft also caught police by surprise. The owner of that vehicle reported the tailgate had backup cameras, which he estimated could cost more than $6,000 to replace.

"I've heard of people taking a tire or the whole vehicle, but never the tailgate," McDaniel said.

McDaniel said residents can avoid becoming victims by making a habit of locking their vehicles.

"If you're taking groceries out, make sure it's the last thing you do before you go back inside your home. You wouldn't leave your home unlocked.

"Well, I have heard some people don't even lock their house."

People who notice someone trying to open vehicle doors are urged to call police. Unless it's an emergency, people are asked to call the department's non-emergency phone line, 868-5959.

"Do not confront the individual," McDaniel said. "But do call us. We want to come check it out."