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Gun theft puts weapons in the hands of criminals

With gun violence at “probably the highest it’s ever been in Alabama,” gun theft is a serious issue according to Sheriff Russell Thomas.

Thomas said the county’s jurisdiction has been fortunate to see declining property crimes and few gun-involved crimes recently, but gun theft remains a major concern for all law enforcement departments.

So what happens when the guns are stolen?

“There are all different reasons why people steal the guns,” Thomas said. “Some are kept for personal use, some are traded or sold fro drugs in the streets, and some are used in the commission of other crimes. A lot of times in robberies, the guns being used are reported stolen.”

Thomas said the guns don’t always stay in Pike County, either.

“We’ve entered the serial numbers of stolen guns into NCIC and later they’ll pop up in a place like Chicago,” Thomas said. “They change hands multiple times. And a lot of times people come in form one of these counties that border us to commit a burglary and then go back.”

One key to limiting the amount of burglaries and gun thefts is being proactive instead of reacting to crimes.

“We try to be preventative rather than reactive,” Thomas said. “We try to keep a strong visibility in our county. We have 12 neighborhood watches in our county as well. And we work hard when we do have these cases to put the person who committed the crime in jail. Once they’re incarcerated, you see the burglaries go down, but when you don’t catch them they don’t stop; you continue to have those burglaries. So we put a lot of emphasis on trying to solve our cases.”

In the past year, Thomas said the county has had nine guns stolen – five of which were taken in two separate residential burglaries, and four stolen in vehicle burglaries.

Thomas said the vigilance of the neighborhoods and communities where the crimes occur plays a big part in whether the sheriff’s department is able to solve the case and make an arrest that could prevent future crimes.

“Neighborhood watches are very important to figuring out these crimes,” Thomas said. “The last neighborhood watch meeting we had in Goshen had about 60 people. Multiply that by 12 neighborhood watches and you’ve got a lot of eyes and ears. The people who live in their community know where the problems are in their community and can provide that information.”

And the people living in these communities can do plenty themselves to help prevent the crimes, which Thomas said are usually crimes of opportunity.

“We shouldn’t have to live in a society where we have to lock our car doors and houses and worry about our kids being at home during the day, but we do so you have to take those precautions,” Thomas said. “One thing we’re seeing though is an increase in cameras in our stores and residential communities. There are more and more people installing cameras and that’s a big plus for us.”

Thomas said one of the first things gun owners should do to protect them should their guns be stolen is to log the serial numbers with law enforcement.

“We give out forms at all of our neighborhood watches and to any citizen that wants one where they can write down the serial number of any guns, as well as certain electronics, that they own,” Thomas said. “Then we can put that information in a database nationwide so that if it’s stolen, we can get a hit on it if it shows up later down the road.”

Gun owners should also bring all firearms inside their homes at night instead of leaving them in their vehicles as most residential burglaries occur during the day when people aren’t home, while more vehicle burglaries happen at night under the cover of darkness.

“And if you’re away from your home, make sure they’re not out in the open in your home,” Thomas said. “Burglars are looking for three main things when they enter a home: jewelry, electronics and firearms. You should preferably keep your firearms in a safe, but if that isn’t an option, at least hide the weapons out of the way where burglars are less likely to find them quickly.”