By Linda Looney-Bond
Clayton County law enforcement officials are working to make their vehicles more theft-proof, after three car break-ins that included a police department cruiser and a sheriff's department vehicle a week ago.
Last Thursday, two guns were stolen from the trunk of a police car, and some bullet-resistant vests were taken from a sheriff's office car, and the car of a soldier's wife.
The break-ins occurred at apartment complexes in close proximity to one another, according to Clayton County Police Lt. Rebecca Brown.
"There were only a few officers, such as SWAT officers, that had weapons stored in the trunk of their vehicles for quick deployment," said Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner, Wednesday.
"We have had them remove the weapons from the vehicles," Turner said. He said the policy will be temporary, until a new mechanism can be added to the cars. "We are looking for devices to secure the trunk area, so that if you push the trunk release, you still won't be able to open the trunk from the inside of the cab," Turner said.
According to a police report, a Clayton County police car parked at the front of an apartment complex on Monterey Circle in Jonesboro was broken into on Thursday, sometime between 12:30 a.m., and 6:30 a.m. Someone bent the window and door frame of the front passenger door, and, once inside, apparently released the trunk lid, according to the report. In the trunk were a Heckler and Koch sub-machine gun and a Bushmaster machine gun, each valued at about $2,000.
Also on Monterey Circle, a woman told police that someone had broken into her Dodge Charger on the same morning at the Monterey Village Apartments. She told police her husband's bullet-resistant vest and ballistic plates were taken, along with her spousal military ID card, a couple of handbags and some other items.
Also on Thursday morning, police responded to a report of a Clayton County Sheriff's Office car being broken into at the Highland Manor Apartments. According to a police report, two bullet-resistant vests -- at least one emblazoned with "Sheriff" on the back -- were taken from the car at the complex on Upper Riverdale Road. The police report says the deputy told police that the suspect had apparently tried to take a shotgun off a rack behind the headrests of the vehicle, but was unsuccessful.
"We're following up on leads in reference to some [hand] prints that were obtained from the crime scene," Turner said.
Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell, a former City of Atlanta police chief, responded to the incidents by saying: "I came out of a department where we kept those kinds of guns at the station. A gun is not safe in my car, or anybody else's car," he said. "I've asked Chief Cohilas [Chief of Staff] to look at those policies," he added.
Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough said he may consider equipping sheriff's office vehicles with mechanisms that would make it more difficult for thieves to break into the trunks.
"That's certainly something that we've thought about in years past," he said. "It used to be standard to disable the interior trunk-unlock-mechanism. It would basically be disabled as long as the vehicle wasn't on," Kimbrough said.
He added, however: "I think it's an overall issue of just fighting crime period. At what point is it that we make criminals feel uncomfortable enough that they don't break into cars, much less our cars?" he said.
-- Staff writer Joel Hall contributed to this report.