Palm Beach Police are working to stop stolen cars as their number exceeds the previous year’s total
It happens within seconds.
A black Mercedes-Benz sedan is parked in the driveway of a Palm Beach home. Two men jump out and run towards Ram’s truck. They pull the door handles. One gets into the driver’s seat and the other rushes back to the Mercedes.
The two vehicles move away.
Thus, the Ram was stolen in less than a minute.
The incident, captured on surveillance video provided to the Palm Beach Daily News by the Palm Beach Police Department, provides a shocking example of how quickly cars are stolen every day in South Florida — and why the problem is so widespread.
The number of cars stolen in Palm Beach as of Nov. 13 was 21, surpassing the total number of cars stolen the previous year — 17 — as the island’s social season got underway, police said.
“The department prides itself on proactive enforcement, and we prevent a lot of car thefts,” said Capt. Will Rothrock, a Palm Beach police spokesman. “However, we can’t be everywhere at once, and unlocked vehicles that have keys inside are easy to steal quickly.”
The number of stolen cars on the island has risen steadily over the past few years, from 16 in 2021, to 17 in 2022, and now 21, according to police records.
“I hope these numbers will decrease as society becomes more sensitive to their car insurance,” Rothrock said. “We hope that through public education and with the help of the Daily News, the Civic Association and the Police Foundation, people will come to that feeling where, ‘I know I’m safe and this is a safe community, but I can’t leave things so valuable unsecured.’”
Police have also recovered several of those cars: 15 in 2021, 12 last year, and 13 this year, as of the beginning of November.
“We work quickly after a theft to recover a vehicle and make arrests where possible,” Rothrock said, noting that Police Chief Nicholas Caristo directs investigators to confiscate vehicles used by those who come to the island to steal cars.
Groups targeting affluent areas, including Palm Beach, typically use high-end vehicles that look like they will blend in with the community without attracting too much attention, Rothrock said.
Rothrock pointed to a recent incident in the town, where on November 6, officers discovered a red BMW, believed to be involved in incidents involving stolen vehicles. When police tried to stop the SUV, the driver sped away, leading officers on a chase through the city and onto the Flagler Memorial Bridge, where the driver of the BMW crashed into the bridge’s closed gate arms while heading east in the westbound lanes, Rothrock said.
He added that the SUV was later recovered in Broward County, and the investigation is ongoing.
The three most frequently stolen vehicles in Palm Beach are Land Rovers, followed by Mercedes-Benzes, with BMWs and Porsches tied for third place, Rothrock said.
South Florida has recently seen increased “interest” from potential thieves looking for Cadillac Escalade SUVs, he said. Rothrock said investigators have noticed more Escalades being targeted, and that when they arrest someone involved in car thefts, that person may have multiple Escalade keys.
“All of these vehicles are high-end vehicles with value,” he said. “A lot of these cars, these organized groups will eventually return their VIN or ship them overseas or resell them elsewhere.”
He said potential thieves are able to quickly identify vehicles that can be opened by looking in their side mirrors. On newer high-end cars, the side mirrors will face toward the car when locked. If the side mirrors are open, that’s a quick indicator to criminals that the car is open, Rothrock said.
“Then it’s just a matter of statistics as to whether or not there’s a key fob in it or close enough to start it,” he said. “If you’re driving down the street, getting out of the car, getting into an unlocked car and pressing the button is definitely a quick thing, and at that point, it’s just a matter of driving away.”
There are repercussions beyond stolen cars, Rothrock said. He added that, as in the case of the red BMW that fled from officers on Nov. 6, those who come to the city to steal cars can cause other types of damage or put people in harm’s way.
“These people who steal these cars, who are associated with these criminal groups, are unsavory characters,” Rothrock said. “They’re dangerous. They’re violent. They’ve been stopped several times and they have firearms.”
These are people who have little respect for their own safety or the safety of others, he said.
“If a criminal group knows that there’s a high probability that they can quickly get a high-end car locked with the keys from a certain area — and that’s not just Palm Beach — that’s another thing.” Areas as well, and then they’ll look for that area,” Rothrock said.
To help curb the number of stolen cars, Caristo launched an anti-burglary strike force, and the department used plainclothes officers and unmarked cars to patrol the island while working with other agencies to track trends and share information, Rothrock said.
People who see something suspicious should call 911 in case of an emergency, or call the police department’s non-emergency line at 561-838-5454, he said, adding that even if people weren’t sure what they saw, it was the case. Safe than sorry.
“I’d rather go through 15 worthless calls and have someone think something was out of place, if I could prevent one crime that it was legitimate,” Rothrock said.
This article originally appeared on the Palm Beach Daily News: Stolen cars in Palm Beach: Police work to prevent thefts