Criminals are targeting cars in downtown Fresno

FRESNO, Calif.

Police know of 22 vehicle burglaries in downtown Fresno over the last month. They say the crooks are looking for easy hits -- cars with valuable items left in plain sight, and three locations are especially hard hit.

The parking lot at St. John's cathedral has become a popular spot for burglars targeting cars in downtown Fresno. Two weekends ago, things got really bad.

"We were preparing for our carnival and cars, boom-boom, one after another, three of them that night," said parishioner Mary Vega-Harguindeguy.

Two more cars got hit the next day at St. John's, and then another the day after.

Police say the Radisson hotel and Community Regional Medical Center are also favorite targets for thieves. Investigators say the last month has been the worst of the year, and the crooks are committing crimes of convenience.

"Folks that break into cars are also auto thieves," said Capt. Greg Garner of the Fresno Police Department. "If the keys are in the car, they'll take the whole car. If not, they'll take whatever's lying in the seat. We've been able to arrest a lot of vehicle burglars over the last few months, but unfortunately they don't spend a lot of time in jail. They get out and repeat their offense."

Officers say CRMC and the Radisson have stepped up security patrols, and surveillance cameras at St. John's could also slow the crimes.

Police are also working harder to make their presence known in the area. But downtown businesses aren't just standing by. They're launching their own program to make the area more attractive to potential visitors -- a sort of street concierge program with a safety element as well.

"We have a big role in this because we're about to launch an ambassador program which will be people on the streets, walking around on a regular basis, 7 days a week," said Kate Borders of the Downtown Fresno Partnership. "And they'll be uniformed. They won't be security, but they'll be additional eyes on the street and that's really key in a downtown environment."

Those ambassadors take to the streets for the first time this weekend. Police say the crimes typically go in waves and once they notice a spike, they step in to crash the wave, like they are right now.

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