James Avera has lived in midtown Mobile for eight years but a recent increase of theft in the area, mainly of outdoor furniture, is unlike anything he has ever seen before.
Avera, who serves as a lead for the Old Dauphin Way group on Nextdoor.com, a private social network for neighborhood communities, has not personally had anything stolen from his home but said many of his neighbors have been victimized.
“It’s always the same,” he said. “Early morning hours, items from the porch and rarely anything else. Only recently have they started stealing random items … especially if someone has bolted the furniture down. Anything from garden hoses to pillows. My nextdoor neighbor had several plants dug up from the front yard.”
An active community advisory group was started about three years ago and has since been working to better the neighborhood, Avera said.
“It’s so frustrating that this is happening … it almost negates all the good,” he said.
According to information provided by the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office on its StreetScan database, 19 calls were made reporting theft in the midtown area between Oct. 1 and Nov. 4. Of those, seven were listed as residential, five uncategorized, four commercial and three vehicle.
There were also five separate calls reporting residential burglary, according to the database.
During the same time period in 2013, there were 13 calls made reporting theft in the same area. There were five calls listed for uncategorized theft, four residential and three vehicle reports. In addition, there was one call to report a purse snatching.
Valerie Blankenship, who lives closer to downtown in DeTonti Square, has also noticed unusual thefts in her neighborhood, which she said usually has very little, if any, crime.
“There is definitely more crime lately, all in the form of stolen porch furniture,” she said. “DeTonti is pretty much crime free.”
Blankenship said two black rocking chairs, which had metal cables running through them and were bolted to the house, were taken from her front porch.
“The bad guys simply unscrewed the bolts,” she said.
While she did not file a police report, Blankenship said the Mobile Police Department, along with other neighbors, encouraged her to.
“I emailed Lt. Billie Rowland, who emails a weekly crime report for the entire downtown area … he encouraged me to file a report and suggested the bad guys might be selling them at the flea market,” she said.
However, Blankenship said she and her spouse recently took a trip to the west Mobile flea market but did not see any rocking chairs.
According to Blankenship, a neighbor was hit twice by theft, even once during the middle of the day when she was inside her home and heard items being taken, Blankenship said.
“She reported a silver pickup truck and two men were the bad guys,” she said.
Another Old Dauphin Way resident, Dot Havard, said she had two rocking chairs on her front porch on Old Shell Road, but one rocking chair was stolen along with a cooler. While she did not file a police report, Havard said she would definitely file reports in the future, now that there seems to be a spotlight on the issue.
“Over the years, we’ve had several items stolen from our shed and cars,” she said. “The main difference with the latest stolen items was that it happened during the day around 4 p.m.”
While her husband was away from the house for approximately a two-hour period, Havard said he returned to their home to find the items missing. In the past, Havard said items were always stolen at night.
“The items being stolen during the day concerned us because it seemed like the criminals were willing to take bigger risks than in the past … my tips for others would be to secure and lock as many items as possible to prevent crimes of opportunity,” she said.
On Blacklawn Street, resident Dannie Mansfield said he had a propane tank stolen while his mother-in-law, who lives next door, had patio furniture stolen. A police report was filed, Mansfield said.
“They came out and did a report and said a detective would be back out but never came back,” he said.
Mansfield also noted an additional incident down the street that involved another neighbor who had a stepladder stolen.
Emily Montague, a resident of Macy Place, filed a police report after she had two rocking chairs stolen. Montague said she scoured through Craigslist to see if the furniture was being sold but came up empty.
“It’s not new getting things stolen, that’s just a thing about living in midtown, but it’s definitely new that they’re taking front porch furniture,” Montague said.
On Oct. 30, MPD arrested two individuals, Steven Miller and Tabatha Eady, for stealing lawn equipment just after 3 a.m. at a home located at 6868 Old Shell Road, in west Mobile.
MPD did not provide any further information regarding the thefts and neither confirmed or denied if Miller and Eady might be involved in any other incidents. According to the MPD, the arrested individuals were driving a gray Chevy Blazer.
Meanwhile, outdoor items are still going missing according to Avera, who posted a message Nov. 3 to Nextdoor, stating the area has been hit multiple times over the past few nights and that there have been multiple reports on the neighborhood website of a newer model, silver Nissan or Toyota, king cab or extended cab truck, that has been seen around the same time the thefts are occurring.
“There is an apparent outbreak of similar thefts occurring weekly throughout Midtown and it only seems to be getting worse,” he wrote. “We have to do all that we can to make this nonsense stop. It’s almost as if they are stealing just to steal … if you are targeted, please call the police and make a report, no matter how insignificant it may seem. We have to send a clear message that this is completely unacceptable. We have to remain vigilant.”
Avera urged all residents to report any and all suspicious activity to the MPD non-emergency number, 251-208-7211.
Officials have also advised residents to inventory lawn equipment and create a log of serial numbers as this will aid in the post investigation.
There will be a community advisory meeting held at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at 30 S. Lafayette St. Avera said he has requested MPD Lt. William Reed to be in attendance to discuss the incidents and take questions.