City parks director warns of ‘smash-and-grab’ thieves

Police say they‘re unaware of an organized “smash-and-grab” ring targeting vehicles in Anchorage-area parks, but at least one municipal department believes otherwise.

“It‘s well known that from Girdwood to Mirror Lake there is a massive smash-and-grab group,” Anchorage Parks and Recreation director John Rodda told the Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors on Aug. 13.

Rodda said he believes the brazen group uses similar techniques and appears to include the same people time and again.

“They‘ll do it in the morning, they‘ll do it in the middle of the day, they‘ll do it where there‘s cameras, they‘ll do it where there‘s not cameras,” Rodda said.

Rodda said thieves have been observed “casing” parking lots before quickly breaking a vehicle‘s window, taking something valuable from inside, and speeding away before anyone notices a crime has occurred. The thieves don‘t target one specific park, but instead roam throughout the municipality.

“We‘ve had them everywhere, sometimes two or three times a day,” Rodda said.

Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Renee Oistad said the department doesn‘t know of an organized gang of thieves prowling area parks, but she did caution people to be aware of the ongoing risk of theft.

“We are not aware of any specific theft ring targeting vehicles,” she wrote in an email to the Star.

Such thefts are all too common, she said, and something the department regularly warns the public about.

“Thefts from vehicles is something APD has been talking about for quite some time,” she wrote.

Oistad said most thefts are “committed by people with a drug problem,” who commit crimes of opportunity.

“These folks have figured out that many citizens leave items of value in their vehicles,” Oistad wrote. “Vehicles at parks, trailheads, and at some homes overnight are popular targets because those vehicles have a better chance of being left unoccupied for longer periods of time.”

Rodda, however, is convinced the same thieves are working in a coordinated effort. He said parks workers are keenly aware of suspicious vehicles and have taken note of some that seem to be “casing” area parks.

“They‘ll see the same vehicle several times circulating,” he said.

Rodda said his department has alerted APD to its suspicions, but expressed frustration with the agency‘s response.

Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation manager Karen Richards said thefts have happened at parks throughout the area, with one park in particular a recent hot spot.

“We had quite a bit of vandalism at Peters Creek Park,” she told the Parks and Rec board.

Richards said her department has installed game cameras at some sites and Parks and Rec workers are continually monitoring suspicious vehicles in hopes of catching thieves in the act.

“I can‘t stop trying,” she said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at .