Crime Tracker 10 looks at which counties are having the biggest problem with firearm thefts.
Locking your car may seem like an obvious thing to do, but Tampa Police Major Eric DeFelice said this is the single biggest reason firearms are ending up in the wrong hands in our region.
“We’re seeing is an increase in gun violence fueled by an increase in guns on the street,” said DeFelice. “The biggest place where people are getting guns illegally is through vehicle thefts.”
10 Tampa Bay filed records requests with all 10 counties we cover for data from the last three years. In every county, guns have been stolen from unlocked cars. In some cases, hundreds of them.
Hillsborough County has had the most guns stolen in vehicle burglaries with 654 since 2020. They’ve determined approximately 75 percent of all vehicle burglaries there involve unlocked vehicles.
Pasco has seen the second most cases of guns stolen from unlocked cars since 2020 with 176. Then Pinellas, with 162, Polk with 124, Sarasota with 115, Citrus with 81 and Hernando with 77. Manatee, Hardee and Highlands Counties said they were unable to collect the data.
It’s a “crime of opportunity,” which Pasco Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Amanda Hunter said can happen to anyone who isn’t vigilant.
“A lot of people will say, oh, my neighborhood is safe, I’ve never seen this happen, but you don’t necessarily know,” said Hunter. In fact, she says wealthy neighborhoods and gated communities are sometimes targeted because criminals assume that is where they can find valuable items in cars, including guns.
“Don’t rely on your gate,” Hunter urged. “Rely on yourself.”
Hunter said most gun thefts from vehicles in Pasco could have been avoided.
“90 percent of the time, it even may be higher than that, if your car door is locked and someone pulls on your door handle, they don’t want to draw attention to themselves, so they’re not going to smash your windows or anything like that. Most the time is just going to move onto the next car,” said Hunter.
Major DeFelice concurs, urging people in Tampa to click the lock on the way out of their car.
“My plea for the citizens of Tampa is to lock your car doors. Every time a car is broken into and a gun is taken out of it, that is one more crime gun that is on the street,” said DeFelice.