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Police aim to clear out crime at storage facilities Carrollton: 41 cases of theft, burglary, mischief reported in 6 months
09:32 PM CDT on Saturday, July 30, 2005
By STEPHANIE SANDOVAL / The Dallas Morning News
CARROLLTON ? Self-storage facilities aren't just for stashing away furniture and other personal possessions anymore.
RON BASELICE/DMN Mike Turner and his wife, Audrey, are property managers at Carrollton Self Storage. 'I roam around quite a bit,' Mr. Turner said about trying to prevent thefts at his facility. They've become a shopping mall for thieves, Carrollton police say.
In one recent case, nearly 30 individual units at one business were broken into in the same night.
"Storage facilities are easy marks," Carrollton Assistant Police Chief Mac Tristan said. "The bad guys can easily hide in the back of one of these facilities and cannot be seen from major streets. They can take all night breaking into unit after unit, leisurely shopping for needed items."
In the first six months of this year, there were 41 thefts, burglaries and criminal mischief cases involving self-storage facilities in Carrollton, police Officer Brian Box said. One location alone had nine incidents in a two-week period.
Now police have launched an effort they hope will help curtail crime at the nearly 30 self-storage facilities in the city.
It's the latest task undertaken by the Community Oriented Policing Program, under which officers have been empowered to set their own crime-fighting agenda and develop methods to go about it.
Getting access to the properties is the first goal. Many of the self-storage facilities are gated, and officers had been unable to get past the gates to patrol the property. Now they have asked management to provide access codes.
Police also hope to develop closer working relationships with managers, whose observations are critical in detecting illegal activities occurring within the storage units.
Base of criminal activity
Burglars aren't the only problems at self-storage facilities. Sometimes criminals rent out the units themselves for illicit gain.
In 2004, an Ovilla man was sentenced to four years in prison for pretending to be a medical doctor and offering exams out of a Duncanville mini-storage business.
Carrollton police Detective Mike Losack has seen marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms grown in storage units, which are also used to store narcotics, cook methamphetamines and stash stolen goods, including cars.
"Some thieves will rent a storage unit and then break into other storage units, transfer it to their unit and then come back at a later time and get the stuff out of their unit," Detective Losack said.
That's apparently what happened in the case of dozens of weapons stolen from a storage unit in Fort Worth in May, where weapons were being stored before the opening of the outdoors store Cabela's.
Federal authorities said Friday that a Fort Worth man stole the weapons from a storage unit and moved them to another unit in the facility ? where they were found when an anonymous tip led authorities to the unit.
Thieves will even replace the locks they broke to get into a storage unit so no one realizes anything is amiss until later.
"When the proprietor goes through, they won't see a bunch of cut locks," he said.
Then weeks, months, even years later, when people go to retrieve their possessions, they're gone.
"We're not going to know about suspicious things going on unless [management] provides that information to us," Officer Box said.
There are about 5,000 self-storage businesses in Texas, the Texas Mini Storage Association estimates.
Executive director Ginny Sutton said there is no evidence the industry has a higher crime rate than any other type of business.
But some managers, she said, have felt police don't do enough when incidents do occur there.
"I wonder how aggressive police are about pursuing these burglaries. Members have said they provided [video] tapes, and police weren't able to do anything with it or chose not to do anything with it," Ms. Sutton said.
"A lot of times facility managers have become frustrated because they are willing to do anything and everything, but police don't pursue the case," she said.
Where managers live on site, crime seems to be less of a problem than at other facilities.
Michael Turner, manager of Carrollton Self Storage, said the only trouble he's had was one incident of vandalism in more than four years.
"We live here in the center, and I'm a big guy. And I spent 20 years in the Army," he said. "I roam around quite a bit."
He's eager, though, to see increased police presence.