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Police: Don’t leave valuables in vehicles

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published May 11, 2016

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FARMINGTON HILLS — The Farmington Hills Police Department hopes to change an uptick in thefts from vehicles by informing residents about how to keep their valuables and vehicles safe.

“This isn’t a Farmington Hills issue — this is a nationwide issue,” Detective Scott Rzeppa said recently. “The biggest thing we want to get across is to have people not leave their belongings, their valuables, in their cars and to be especially vigilant when they are at different locations, such as parks, baseball fields, soccer fields, gyms, day cares.”

Lt. Paul Nicholas said the Police Department is investigating an out-of-town group called the Felony Lane Gang, whom police believe is responsible for the rash of crimes.

“The term comes from the banks that named the far lane of the drive-thru because folks don’t want to be too close to the bank when committing these crimes,” Nicholas said of the suspects, who allegedly break into people’s cars, steal their valuables and then attempt to cash checks. “They steal items out of vehicles … (taking) credit cards, checking, (and) commit frauds at banks. We’ve experienced these over several years. We’re not alone. This is a group out of southern Florida, out of the Fort Lauderdale area. Arrests have been made throughout the nation.”

Nicholas said that because the crimes are under investigation, he could not get into too many details.

“I know that we’ve had some contact, but don’t want to get into whether we’ve made arrests or not,” he said. “They go all over the country. Don’t know why they’ve come to Michigan. … Maybe because they are successful. If we can keep folks to keep things out of their vehicles — make ourselves a harder target — they may move on.”

He added that, typically, the group is in an area for months at a time.

“We’re seeing the beginnings of, potentially, months of activity for them,” he said. “That’s why we are getting the word out early.”

Rzeppa’s message echoes a recent notification sent out to the community via Nixle, Facebook and email. On April 30, three vehicles’ windows were smashed out and purses and gym bags were stolen at Founders Park and Heritage Park, according to the police report. Before one of the thefts, a suspicious-looking person, described as a black man with a goatee, was seen driving around the parking lot in an older-model maroon Jeep Cherokee without a license plate. Witnesses said the man was looking into vehicles, according to the report. 

Rzeppa said that the suspect or suspects are targeting women, who may leave their purses in their vehicles, adding that the suspect or suspects routinely visit locations such as parks, gyms and day care centers.

“All it does is take them three minutes to do it,” he said of breaking into vehicles, noting that a five-minute day care drop-off can be a moment of opportunity for a suspect.

“Farmington Hills police would like to remind its residents and visitors to lock their cars and keep their valuables out of sight,” the police report states.

For more information, call (248) 871-2600.