The number of vehicle break-ins and related thefts at trailheads in Gallatin County has been on the rise.
Six vehicles were broken into at trailheads and fishing accesses from mid-August to Sept. 15, compared to just one in the 30 days prior, according to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office. Three of the break-ins were in the Gallatin Canyon at trailheads or fishing accesses along the Gallatin River.
GCSO Detective Sandy Schroeder said most of the thefts appear to be people stealing on a whim and do not have indications of an organized crime of any kind like has happened in the Gallatin Valley in the past. Two of the recent thefts involved broken windows, but most of the vehicles were unlocked.
“Historically in Bozeman, I would say a lot of it is opportunity,” Schroeder said. “Unlocked doors, stuff visible … if you were just to walk along a row of cars and check the door handles as you go by, it’s going to be quicker and less obvious if you just open the door that’s not locked as opposed to smashing a window.”
Possessions stolen out of parked cars at trailheads and fishing accesses over the past month or so include personal items like credit cards and licenses, purses and bags and outdoor recreation equipment, like fishing poles.
After someone calls to report a vehicle being broken into or possessions being stolen from a vehicle, a deputy will respond to the scene and create a case number, which some insurance companies require. They’ll take photos of any broken or damaged parts of the vehicle and will take a list of stolen items.
Responding deputies or officers will also likely ask people to cancel any credit and debit cards that have been stolen and recommend that they monitor those accounts for any unauthorized activity.
“If those accounts are used, then we’re going to want to know when and where,” Schroeder said. “If they’re used locally, then hopefully we could go to those businesses and try to get photos or video surveillance.”
The best way to keep a vehicle from being broken into is to hide any valuables so they’re not visible or to not leave any valuables in the vehicle, Schroeder said.
“I know a lot of runners don’t want to take a backpack or their purse, so definitely hiding stuff or just not leaving valuables in the car, being aware of the other cars when you pull into the parking lot” can help, Schroeder said. If a car looks out of place or a person is acting suspicious, she recommends writing down information like license plate numbers and reporting it to the sheriff’s office by calling the non-emergency line.
For outdoor equipment, if it has to be left in a car, having serial numbers and other identifying information could help law enforcement better identify the equipment if it’s recovered later. The sheriff’s office has found abandoned storage units with stolen items inside that have been returned to rightful owners, and pawn shops will often run serial numbers of big-ticket equipment to check if it’s been reported as stolen.
“The more details, the better,” Schroeder said.