Nearly 1,000 car break-ins this year in Orlando's tourist district

25 car windows smashed this week, gun stolen

A squad of deputies fanned out to four different tourist-area hotels Tuesday morning to document 25 different smash-and-grabs in the hotel parking lots.

Among the items stolen from inside the cars: a handgun.

Five cars were burglarized at the Marriott Vacation Club Harbour Lake on Grand Horizons Boulevard near Sea World, three at the Hampton Inn on Palm Parkway, six at the Embassy Suites on Lake Street, and 11 at the Hilton Garden Inn on Marbella Palm Court across from the Orlando Premium Outlets.

From Jan 1, 2016 to Oct. 11, 2016, the tourist district of Orlando, known internally as Sector 5, saw 901 auto burglaries, compared to 355 in the same area for all of 2015, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office Crime Analysis Unit.

News 6 asked the Orange County Sheriff's Office how it is getting results on crime in Sector 5.

"We have patrol deputies in Sector 5 along with our Tourist Orienting Policing Squad (TOPS), Problem Oriented Policing Squad (POPS) and other specialized patrols units we can direct to I-Drive at any time, along with high visibility and undercover units," said spokesperson Jane Watrel.

News 6 rode along with Master Deputy Stanley Murray, the deputy in charge of crime prevention in the International Drive and Disney areas.

"We don't want to be just riding around with out lights on and hope it works out," Murray said. "We're actively trying to find ways to get ahead of the crime trends, the patterns."

Murray couldn't discuss ongoing intelligence and surveillance operations, some covert, targeting the burglars, but said his crime prevention unit is getting crime results by teaching tourist-area businesses to protect their properties, specifically their parking lots.

"From a crime prevention standpoint we've started working with not just the hotels but the businesses, restaurants, even some of the smaller businesses," said Murray. "And we reach out to them through meetings we have monthly and push the image we're in this together. It's a collaboration between the Sheriff's Office, law enforcement, private security, we need everyone to help us out."

One hotel guest staying at the Hilton Garden Inn said he was relieved to discover his car was not burglarized after he'd parked his car in the back of the hotel in a dark area of the parking lot.

"I don't know how you could avoid that with it dark and crowded if you don't have a security guard constantly on patrol," said Phil Dawson, visiting from Alabama. 

"You think it's part of the hotel's responsibility?" News 6 Anchor Erik von Ancken asked.

"Personally, yes," said Dawson. "But you always see this disclaimer for anything left in your vehicles."

Some hotel owners and managers who spoke with News 6 off camera didn't accept responsibility for the burglaries, saying it's not their job to keep criminals out of the parking lots.

Others agreed they must partner with deputies and consider measures like additional lighting, cameras, even private security guards.

"Are you getting enough cooperation?" asked von Ancken.

"We'd always like more cooperation, we are working with the businesses here, we'd always like more," said Murray. "At the end of the day, these people work here, live here, they're out, they see more stuff than we ever will because they're here."

Spokesperson Watrel said the Orange County Sheriff's Office currently has 61 patrol deputy openings.

"However, we have 24 conditional offers to individuals who have passed background checks ad we are awaiting their medical results," said Watrel. "On 11/11/16 they will join our sworn ranks."

Watrel would not discuss staffing levels in Sector 5 but said besides the multiple units on duty, others are able to respond at any time.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.