A rash of car break-ins in Newport Beach--including several in locked garages--has police on alert and homeowners associations warning residents to take extra care.
Car burglaries have jumped over the last four months from a rate of 35 per month to about 60, said Sgt. Mike McDermott.
"I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to it," said McDermott.
He noted that car burglary rates have been down over the last two years. Previously, rates of 75 to 100 a month were common.
Hard hit in the recent wave were three locked garages where valuables were stolen from cars after the burglars got inside without tripping any alarms. All three took place in complexes on side streets away from busy thoroughfares.
In one incident early in the morning of Nov. 2, a burglar entered a secured underground garage on Sea Island Drive and broke into a Corvette, a Jaguar and a Chevrolet pickup.
The thief managed to take seven sets of golf clubs worth $8,000, prescription glasses and a garage-door opener, among other items, without tripping the car alarms. The theft was similar to one that took place four nights earlier on Lillie Lane, police said.
Last weekend, five cars in an underground parking garage in the 400 block of Seaward Road were ransacked; some of them were unlocked.
The rise in car burglaries appears isolated to Newport Beach. In neighboring Costa Mesa, police said they have seen a drop in the number of car burglaries. Huntington Beach and Irvine also report no significant increases in such incidents. Officials from those cities said such waves of crime come and go from time to time.
"Somebody steals one of the gate openers and then they have a field day because everyone drops their guard once they're parked in those garages," said Lt. Ron Smith of the Costa Mesa Police Department. "The suspect feels real secure because they know we can't get in there to patrol the lot."
Newport Beach police said they aren't sure if the car burglaries are the work of one thief or many.
"We've had instances where we've caught one group of guys and, while we're busy processing them, another crime goes down with another group of guys," said McDermott, adding there are often multiple car break-in gangs working at the same time.
Police throughout the county are warning residents to take special care in the holiday season, traditionally the peak time of year for car break-ins.
McDermott advised residents to make sure they lock their doors and remove valuables from their cars, even when parked in secured lots and locked garages. Newport Beach police have increased patrols on the east side of the city where the bulk of the break-ins have occurred, he said.
Police in towns bordering Newport Beach said they are keeping an eye on the situation.
"Car burglaries are always up and down," said Costa Mesa's Smith. "Of course, these guys could come right across the across our border and hit us. Then again, when they catch whoever is doing this, chances are the incidents will drop right back down again."
Times correspondent Steve Carney contributed to this report.