Thousands of guns stolen in Houston during car burglaries

HOUSTON – Houston police and federal agents are calling on gun owners to take extra precautions when leaving their weapons in their cars.

KPRC 2 Investigates analyzed a Houston Police Department database of 7,127 car burglaries involving gun thefts from Jan. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2019. The vast majority of these crimes remain unsolved.

Where are these crimes occurring?

HPD’s database shows no part of town is immune to this type of crime. However, a closer look at the locations of these gun thefts shows there are some hot spots.

Areas inside the loop, along Interstate 10, showed 1,327 cases of guns stolen from cars. Farther west on I-10, from Beltway 8 past Highway 6, HPD logged 743 of these crimes, while another area running from the Loop along 59 and north of the Westpark Tollway showed 681 reports of guns stolen during car burglaries.

Are the crooks targeting specific vehicles?

Yes, said Houston police and the special agent-in-charge of the Houston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“(Thieves) told us all they do, all night long is go around looking for cars with gun stickers," said ATF special agent-in-charge, Fred Milanowski. “It’s really putting a neon-flashing light on your vehicle.”

Sgt. Tracy Hicks, of the Houston Police Department’s auto-theft division, said thieves will stake out parking lots around restaurants, bars, gyms, even nail salons -- places that either don’t allow guns or where people are reluctant to take their gun inside. Hicks said that, coupled with a gun-related sticker in the window, makes the vehicle an instant target.

“We’re seeing an uptick in employee parking lots," Hicks said. “People are now sitting near the gun stores, watching specifically and following people from the gun stores. Stop putting the NRA stickers on your truck. Stop putting the pro-hunting, the, you know, ‘This truck is protected by Smith & Wesson.’"

Milanowski said there is even a time of day when these thieves like to strike.

“From 2 o’clock in the afternoon to 8 o’clock at night and those are restaurant parking lots, hotel parking lots, businesses like that,” said Milanowski. “(What’s) fueling the urban violence in our city is all these guns getting stolen out of cars.”

What can I do?

Both Hicks and Milanowski said it is imperative to lockup a gun when leaving it unattended in a car. Both said many of these crimes involved guns that were just stashed under seats, left in glove compartments or in duffel bags on the floor. Both men suggest by a gun lock that can be attached to a seat frame or something else bolted to the frame of the vehicle. Another suggestion is buying a portable gun safe and bolting that to your vehicle. Milanowski said thieves are only looking for the path of least resistance.

“They’re not taking the time to cut through chains and locks and everything else,” said Milanowski.

Malinowski also said many gun owners don’t write down the make, model and serial number of their guns. He said without that identifying information, a stolen gun cannot be uploaded into state and national crime databases. The problem with that is if an officer comes across someone carrying a stolen gun and runs a check on the weapon, nothing will show up.

“(The officer) doesn’t get a hit, therefore that criminal just goes down the road,” said Milanowski.