HOUSTON – It was a trend that HPD started noticing a few years ago. Vehicles were broken into, but items like computers and cellphones were not taken. Then, investigators realized the target -- guns.
Now, the number of guns in the city of Houston that have been stolen out of vehicles, according to HPD, is well into the thousands.
“We have too many firearms stolen from vehicles in the city of Houston,” HPD Executive Chief Matt Slinkard told KPRC 2 Investigates at a recent news conference.
In 2021, 3,706 guns were stolen out of vehicles, according to HPD. The trend continues to rise in 2022. HPD says the numbers are up 17% in the first two months compared to last year.
Sgt. Tracy Hicks with HPD’s auto theft crimes task force took KPRC 2 Investigates for a ride around the city. His focus during our drive? Parking lots.
“We are out looking,” said Hicks while behind the wheel of his pick-up truck.
Hicks says it’s happening all over the city and “it’s not a secret” for criminals.
Certain hot spots include Richmond Avenue located inside the loop, the Galleria area, just off the Southwest Freeway near Upper Kirby, and stretches of the Katy Freeway.
The key targets? Vehicles that are parked at restaurants and gyms where guns are usually not allowed.
During the drive, Hicks made it clear that vehicle body styles and certain stickers are advertisements for criminals.
“The pro-NRA stickers, the second amendment, the come and take it stickers and even a Trump sticker lets people know that your likes and dislikes are hunting and fishing, those are outdoorsy guys,” said Hicks.
Another beacon for gun thieves? Stickers supporting law enforcement.
In the parking lot at a restaurant, Raymond Miller didn’t understand why KPRC 2 Investigates was inquiring about the gun in his truck. The “Thin Blue Line” sticker on the back of his cab gave it away.
“I was very surprised,” said Miller when we pointed to his sticker.
HPD says the solution is to lock them up in a gun safe.
However, not just any safe, according to Hicks.
“You’re going to mount this, it’s going to be bolted in your floorboard.” The veteran HPD Sergeant said while making it clear that he prefers a safe that is not going anywhere.
It’s an expensive solution, but Hicks says a vehicle is not the place to store a gun permanently. The other more practical answer is to never leave them in a vehicle. Even if it means having to go home to drop it off before a workout or a meal.
“Take the guns with you, ok,” said HPD Troy Finner in an interview with KPRC 2 Investigates on Tuesday.
When asked if his solution is challenging considering HPD is relying on a citizen to be responsible when some people simply aren’t?
“Everybody has to be intentional of being more responsible, including police officers, ok, when we are off duty,” said Finner. “Don’t leave your darn gun in a car because criminals are going to get it and they are using those guns to commit crimes.”