Three piles of shattered glass littered the parking lot of one of Missoula's most popular trailheads last weekend. The debris—clearly the remnants of vehicle break-ins—prompted at least one dog-walker to lock his wallet in his glove box before hitting Waterworks Hill.
Turns out, over the last two weeks there have been a total of six break-ins at Waterworks and at Greenough Park's lower parking lot just across Rattlesnake Creek, according to Missoula City Police Sgt. Bob Bouchee. Items were taken from all of the vehicles. The break-ins occurred between 3 and 7 p.m. on random days. Further details are being withheld as police investigate.
"It's a reminder to either hide or not take valuables even when you're parking at a walking trail in broad daylight," Bouchee says.
And as of press-time, Missoula County had received reports of two additional vehicle break-ins just this week. A car parked at the Buckhouse Bridge Fishing Access Site was broken into on Monday, says Sgt. Robert Kennedy, and another parked at the Blue Mountain trailhead was broken into on Tuesday.
"It's kind of a common thing," Kennedy says. "That's really a pretty big crime in Missoula—theft from a motor vehicle. We have those on a weekly basis. We'll take reports of theft from a motor vehicle, whether it's from a residential area or public access. It's a crime of opportunity."
Still, Kennedy says, there have been fewer break-ins so far this season compared to the last few years. But while they may not be becoming more common, the thieves do appear to be increasingly aggressive.
On the Lolo National Forest, for instance, law enforcement officers said two break-ins at the main Pattee Canyon parking area earlier this year appeared to show no attempt to check for an unlocked door.
"The long and short of it is that these individuals are being more brazen," says Becky Agner, a Lolo National Forest law enforcement officer. "They are breaking the windows to gain entry. They're being quick and dirty."