With a rising number of car break-ins, Chattahoochee National Recreation Area officials are using new license plate reading cameras to crack down on thieves.
The park, which extends for 48 miles, touches four counties and makes up more than 10,000 acres, is a haven for metro Atlantans wanting access to nature in the big city, but Park Rangers know the city elements are never far away.
“It’s an urban park, but we have these little jewels that are outside the city, so you have urban time crime that filters into the park, unfortunately,” said Chief Park Ranger Jeston Fisher. “Everything that happens outside in metro Atlanta happens in Chattahoochee River; it’s just on a different scale.”
According to numbers provided by the National Parks Service to WSB Radio, 63 cases have been reported to park rangers this year alone, compared to 13 in 2021 and 28 in 2020. That’s not counting the number of reports filed with local agencies who may have responded to the calls.
Fisher believes the actual number is higher because thieves are targeting multiple cars simultaneously. However, not every victim files a report, especially if they don’t notice that anything has been stolen.
Officials are seeing sophisticated criminals as well as “smash-and-grab opportunists.”
The park has seen an increase in visitors since the pandemic’s start. The latest estimates show more than 3.3 million people visit each year. With 15 trailheads and 63 miles worth of trails, there are many options for potential criminals, but rangers have found that they tend to target locations in Cobb and Fulton Counties the most.
“The park is just being loved to death which is great, but it’s also detrimental to some things,” Fisher told WSB’s Jonathan O’Brien.
With the recent rise in criminal activity, the park service has deployed license plate reader cameras made by Flock, that share data with local partners and have helped lead to several arrests.
“I know of about at least four arrests that were made this summer that are linked to people that have been hitting the park,” Fisher explained.
The criminals often watch their victims; in many cases, they are dressed up in running or hiking outfits to blend in. Fisher said you should always assume you’re being watched and always hide your personal belongings.
“If it’s valuable to you, leave it at home or take it with you,” he added.
TIPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR BELONGINGS:
1. When parking, always assume that someone might be watching you and casing your vehicle.
2. Manually lock your doors rather than using a key fob. Criminals can clone the signals from your fob to enter your cars undetected.
3. Don’t leave any high end merchandise in plain view.
4. Don’t leave unattended or unsecured firearms in your vehicle. Don’t advertise that you might have a gun with bumper stickers or other decals.
5. Do not bring passports, social security cards, or other valuable identity documents to the park. Items like these are best left at home in a security box.
6. Place valuables/purses/bags in your trunk *before* you enter the park. Criminals may be watching you put belongings in your trunk.
If you must leave items in your vehicle, separate the items into multiple locations.
7. If possible, take any valuables with you on your walk, hike, or run. Again, the best thing to do is leave your valuables at home.
If you do return from your hike, bike ride, or float and find your car broken into, please call park dispatch at 770-992-6585.
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