Today we engage in a crucial discussion on neighborhood safety and auto break-ins with Chief Howie Thompson of the Greenville Police Department. Tune in to learn valuable tips to keep your possessions safe, understand how community cooperation can make a huge difference in crime prevention, and find out what proactive measures the police department is taking. This episode is packed with actionable insights, real-life examples, and resources you can tap into for a safer Greenville. Don’t forget to check out the links below for a list of resources and jurisdictions mentioned.
Katy Smith: Auto break-ins are so frustrating. If you’ve ever experienced one, you might have come out to your car to find that whatever you’d left in your glove compartment is gone because you left your door open. Or worse, you find a window smashed and your pocketbook or laptop swiped from the passenger side.
What a hassle, expense and violation. I’m Katy Smith with Simple Civics: Greenville County, and today I’m grateful to the City of Greenville’s Police Chief Howie Thompson for joining us to talk about neighborhood safety and especially preventing and dealing with auto break-ins. He’ll share tips to keep yourself from being a victim, how you and your neighbors can work together to prevent and stop crime, what the police department is doing about it and what you can do if you find yourself a victim.
We make references to lots of resources, and they’re listed on the episode page along with those from other jurisdictions outside of the City of Greenville.
Chief Thompson, thanks so much for being here today to talk about neighborhood safety and auto break-ins.
Chief Howie Thompson: Yes. Thanks for having me.
Katy Smith: In my neighborhood, we have had a spate of auto break-ins lately, and it has made all of us feel like there’s a crime wave going on right now. Can you share some data to let us know if that’s the case, if something unique is happening?
Chief Howie Thompson: I can. Usually, uh, in the summertime, we do see an uptick in auto brakings and not just in your neighborhood. This is across the city. And if you polled any law enforcement agency or community around, they would be telling you the same thing. What we see is auto breakings are a crime of opportunity.
And just recently we have caught 10 or 12 kids, and I say kids because they’re between the ages of 12 and 18, and they go out in groups of three or four and they, they walk up and down the street, through apartment complexes, through shopping centers, and they’re pulling on door handles. And if the door handle is unlocked and, and they can open it, they certainly go in and take whatever they can, whether it be a phone cord, a cup of change.
Of course if a woman’s purse is in there, a computer bag, golf clubs, these are all things we have seen them take. We respond, uh, using our data. And so looking at the data between 75 and 80%, 85% of our auto brakings, they’re, the vehicles are always unlocked.
And so that leaves just a very small percentage 15 to 25% of vehicles that are locked. Usually the ones that are locked. And the reason that those are forced entry on is what we call forced entry. They, they break the window out to get what, whatever they see, it’s cause they see something.
The door might be locked, they look in and they see the computer bag, the purse, the golf clubs, a rifle, uh, you know, some type of weapon that, that they want, fishing gear. I’ve seen that stolen. And so they see something of what they think is of value and they will at that point, break the window. Now many times when they’re going down through these neighborhoods and complexes, they will not break a window.
They don’t draw attention to themselves. They want it to be quiet and quick. Like I said before, it’s a crime opportunity. They check the door handle. If it’s open, they go in, they take whatever’s there. If the door is locked, and, and we know this from watching your neighbor’s surveillance uh, systems, uh, which is a great thing to have, is to have these cameras.
It really helps us know who’s out in the neighborhoods and what they’re doing and, and sharing it with us. Lets us track ’em down. But we, we watch the videos and see them checking the door handles. If they’re locked, they move on, they go to the next place. Now, if your neighbors aren’t locked, they’re gonna be in those vehicles and, and take whatever they can.
And we see this across the city. And so, uh, we do suggest everybody, please lock your doors. First of all, remove all your valuables. Don’t leave any valuables in your car, especially guns. Recently during the last 150 auto brakings, uh, I’ve looked at that we’ve done some studies on. Eight of those had guns stolen.
And so another thing that people don’t think about is don’t advertise what you might have in your car. If on your back window you have a decal that says “Sig… beretta… glock…”, a thief is going to know this is a gun person. There’s a good chance they have a gun in their car and they’re gonna target you.
So you’re, you’re kind of almost advertising it, making it easy for ’em. So we, we ask you don’t, don’t advertise on your vehicle what you’ve got inside your car and, uh, you know, lock your vehicles, put ’em in an area that has either is well lit or has motion lights. Uh, we suggest everybody have them.
Also, that helps you if you’re inside your house and see something light up outside, it should draw your attention to go look out, see what’s going on. Also have the outdoor camera systems that will help you record and know if, if somebody is out there moving around. You can connect these also to your, your home, your internal system whether you have the Google or the Alexa, you know, whatever you have, they will notify you.
“Somebody’s detected outside.” You can, you can connect them. So we suggest you do that. They don’t just do it for when you come ring the doorbell and they say, “person detected at your front door.” They can also, if you have cameras put up around your house, notify you that somebody’s outside moving around.
Uh, so we, we suggest, you know, that you do that. It’s very inexpensive. The prices have come way down on that type of system.
Katy Smith: So Chief Thompson referred to video on my street. We had an interesting incident where someone did have one of those systems and in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, saw someone try to break in their auto. They sent out a clip of it on our giant neighborhood text chain, and in real time, people on our street could see the very person walking down the street out to the main road.
And we were able to call the police non-emergency number who apprehended the person with an iPad in hand, just blocks away from the street because of that technology, which is incredible now.
Chief Howie Thompson: Yeah, absolutely. And these text chains, you know, next door, things like that where you can notify neighbors quick. These are great. But let’s talk about that iPad a minute. Cause that’s, that’s kind of important. You, you have a little inside information that others don’t have. We did stop this gentleman and he had an iPad.
It was obviously not his. And, and we have the iPad. We’ve put it in our property in evidence. But this is why it’s important for everybody to report these. Uh, a lot of times I think people walk out and nothing’s taken from their car. They can tell it’s been rummaged through, uh, and they don’t wanna report anything.
But if your car’s been broken into and gone through, let us know. Also, if you have an item missing like an iPad, let us know. Sometimes we stop people and recover property that we know is not theirs, but we don’t have a victim. And we would first of all, like to return that property to the victim. Uh, and then second of all, we would like to charge the person that’s out committing the crimes to help reduce these number of crimes.
So please, uh, contact us. If you don’t want an officer to come to your house, you can call our, our front desk. We have officers on duty at the front desk that can take your report. A detective will follow up and then go from there, but it’s important for us to know what’s missing and where these you know, incidents are happened.
It could happen on your street and if nobody reported it, that’s not gonna get the extra concentration of of the officers. We do what we call extra patrols when we sense that there is a, a hotspot in an area. Our crime analysts are very good of notifying our officers. They send out a tactical bulletin about what’s going on, and it really draws their attention and zeros ’em in to make ’em hyper-focused on an area.
So please let us know.
Katy Smith: I have seen neighborhoods change both in that people might not know each other like they used to, to have a really successful neighborhood watch program, but then people are on next door and other apps. What thoughts do you have about how neighbors can work together and use tools that they have to help fight crime and prevent it in their neighborhoods?
Chief Howie Thompson: Yeah, I think it’s very important for neighborhoods to keep the neighborhood association feel. You know, everybody wants, wants their time and wants their family time and they’re not as willing to take that time to go to a neighborhood meeting, to go to a neighborhood watch meeting.
But to take that time to just sign up in a text group for the neighborhood, sign up on Nextdoor, that communication is, is very important. Um, also I ask you, please follow the, the police department’s Facebook. Follow our social media. We also have an app and we are able to put out information to the public and you can see what’s going on.
And so if we’re looking for somebody, you can certainly, you know, the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. The neighbors are there 24/7. You know, we come in, handle a problem, we’re, we’re back out to handle another situation. So we really count on our partnerships with our, our neighbors, our neighborhoods to let us know what’s going on.
And being connected with us through our platforms is also very important. In the city of Greenville, we have over 30 neighborhood associations, and we do have new neighborhood associations starting every day. Uh, it seems as the area grows and there’s new neighborhoods, they do work with the city to become an association.
The city then regularly has host meetings with the neighbor association presidents to help share information, uh, with them. And in turn they share it, you know, with, with their neighbors.
Katy Smith: That’s great. I’m so grateful for our neighborhood association to help get the word out for sure. And then those informal connections too. If someone sees something happening and they’re worried, do they call 911 or do they call the non-emergency number, and how do they know when to call which?
Chief Howie Thompson: So if you see something that’s happening immediately, you, you see it and you can tell there’s something going on and you don’t think it’s good. Call 9 1 1. We have the city divided up into zones, and we have officers that are assigned to each zone. And, and that’s for a couple reasons so that they know that area.
They learn the people, they learn the neighbors. Uh, a lot of neighborhoods you go into the, the neighbors know the officers, they know ’em by name. They might even have that officer’s phone number and can call them directly. But sometimes I don’t recommend that cause officers work, you know, we work 12 hour shifts, uh, and they, you know, so they work a couple days off, a couple days.
But, you know, we have good relationships with, with our neighborhoods. But call 9 1 1 if you, you feel like something’s not right. If it’s something you have a question about or, you know, you think it might not be right, it’s fine to call our non-emergency line 271-5333.
Also, uh, we always say if you see something, say something. You know, if you know something, say something. And it doesn’t have to be to us. If you don’t want to talk to the police but you wanna share information, you can call Crime Stoppers. ” 23 Crime” is the Greenville Crime Stoppers number. It is totally anonymous and you can offer your information and give us any information that you want and they will route it to whatever area you know, the jurisdiction is in.
And so that’s just a good way to have peace of mind if you know you don’t want the, the officer, and if you don’t want an officer come out, that’s fine. Uh, you can still call the police department, uh, and we could connect you to another, an officer, a detective or somebody to talk to.
And we don’t have to come to your residence. A lot of people don’t want that if, you know, if nothing’s going on, but they do wanna talk to us. So there’s many ways to, to connect with us.
Katy Smith: And we’ll put all this information in the show notes if you wanna look up more information about the City of Greenville and we can put other jurisdictions as well.
Chief Howie Thompson: Another way to do it is online. Uh, if you go to our website, there is a contact the chief link that comes, uh, directly to me. And while I might not respond, if it’s, if it’s an important thing that you need to get connected to somebody, if you send it to me, I will make sure the right person contacts you, uh, and we’ll, we’ll get you taken care of.
Katy Smith: Okay, we got a lot of great tips today. First, remove all your valuables from your car. Lock your doors, make sure you have good lighting outside, motion sensors and the like. Use tech if you can afford it. Get videos to record what might be going on. And always, always, always report. And we heard to call 9 1 1 if there’s an emergency in process.
Or go ahead and save to your phone, “271-5333,” the non-emergency number. But there’s another tool out there for us. Can you tell us a little bit about Greenville Cares?
Chief Howie Thompson: Yeah, so Greenville Cares. Uh, we have a number in the city of Greenville, and it’s a clearing house for any complaint you might have. I know a lot of people when I, when I talk to the neighborhood association groups, they will say, “well, I know this is going on, but I don’t know who to call.” Call Greenville Cares ” 23 Care,” and they will route that number to who, whoever needs it.
It could be a public works thing. Uh, maybe some trash needs to be picked up, or it could be a police thing. it could be any of, I mean, we get hundreds of complaints in the city every day, but they know how to route ’em and who to send them to. Just a very important number, especially if you live in the city to get service.
Katy Smith: Wonderful, and a couple months ago we did an episode with Greenville Cares and so we’ll put that in the show notes as well for you all. Is there anything else you wanna let folks know?
Chief Howie Thompson: You know, we’ve got a, a great police department. They’re very professional. This group I work with is the best group I’ve, I’ve seen in my 29 years of, of policing. And they wanna be part of the community and they want to help. This group wants to help more than anybody I’ve, I’ve ever seen.
So don’t, you know, don’t be afraid to contact us. It’s our job. We want to take care of you. Uh, they’re very conscientious. The last thing they want is, is crime in their neighborhoods. And so sometimes we just need to draw, uh, get their attention drawn to the area where they need to be. And they’re gonna come and, and assist you any way they can.
Katy Smith: Chief Thompson, thank you so much for being with us today, but for your service and for all of the service of the men and women of the Greenville Police Department, we’re so grateful for you protecting and serving us.
Chief Howie Thompson: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Katy Smith: Simple civics. Greenville County is a project of greater good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.
Image via Greenville Police & Canva.