Investigators see spike in guns stolen from cars in the Lowcountry

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Local police are speaking out after a spike in guns stolen from cars across the Lowcountry.

Sergeant Trevor Shelor works with City of Charleston Police Department's crime prevention unit.

Shelor said the department noticed the trend and started tracking numbers a few years ago.

"Those numbers have been going up and up and up each year," Shelor said. Reports show an increase of 50 guns stolen from cars in the city's jurisdiction in 2013 to 123 this past year.

According to Shelor, a large majority of reported gun thefts took place while cars were unlocked.

"It's great that you feel safe in your neighborhood, but you need to turn the key, press the button and keep it that way," Shelor said.

According to requested data from 2013 to 2016, Berkeley Co. Sheriff's Office, North Charleston Police, Charleston Co. Sheriff's Office, Mt. Pleasant Police, and Goose Creek Police also revealed an increase in guns stolen from cars. Meanwhile, Walterboro Police, Dorchester CO. Sheriff's Office and Hanahan Police had a decrease in such thefts. According to representatives for Summerville Police and Colleton Co. Sheriff's Office, the departments are unable to isolate gun-specific thefts from auto break-ins, and Moncks Corner Police was approached and did not response to Live 5 News' request for data.

Overall, more than 1,600 guns were swiped from local cars since 2013, according to reports. For law enforcement, the thefts mark a dangerous trend.

"Guns that are going to be used against people in an armed robbery," Shelor said. "Guns that are going to be used in violence against youth. Guns that might be used against law enforcement."

Shelor said stolen weapons are hard to track, often only turning up at the scene of a crime.

"Whether they are kept local or sold up the road or sent upstate, we don't know," Shelor said. "But it's a gun out there that's going to hurt somebody."

Deputy Chief Michael Fowler with Hanahan Police said the department recently recovered a weapon in Hanahan that was reported stolen out of Mt. Pleasant.

"What has that weapon been used as in the meantime is our concern," Fowler said.

Fowler said it comes down to responsible gun ownership to ensure your car is locked.

"The message is clear, lock your car," Fowler said. "But repeatedly we're seeing people who've been victimized more than once. We've had 28 weapons stolen out of vehicles, and in only one of the incidents was the vehicle locked."

While the majority of departments were unable to retroactively search reports from locked vs. unlocked cars, surveillance video reveals some thieves' tactics.

"These people will go from car to car, pull on door handles, see what's inside," Fowler said. "If they pull on the handle and it's locked, they move onto the next one."

According to police, there's only one failsafe way to protect your gun from theft.

"Please when you get home at night if you feel the need to bring a gun with you to places, just bring it inside."

Rep. Seth Whipper (D-Charleston) introduced the bill "Lizzy's Law" for legislators to consider in the spring session. The bill would require gun owners report lost or stolen weapons or face penalties. The bill is currently in the state judicial committee.

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