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One Night, 11 Thefts

At least 11 cars in Avenel neighborhood broken into; many were parked in owners’ driveways.

Whoever smashed the window of Kimi Cissel’s car knew something about sunglasses. She had two pairs of sunglasses in her car, which was locked and parked outside her family’s home when its passenger-side window was smashed and items stolen on the morning of Sunday, July 29.

The thief or thieves made off with the designer Kate Spade sunglasses, and left the generic ones behind.

Was this the work of pros? "They’re smart enough to know what they’re taking," said Sherri Cissel, Kimi’s mother.

The Cissels’ car was one of 11 that were broken into in the neighborhoods around Avenel on the morning of Sunday, July 29, between midnight and 8 a.m. Items stolen from the cars include electronic equipment, computer software, GPS units, iPods, car stereo systems, cameras, clothing, backpacks, music CDs, garage door openers, and a 27-inch flat-screen TV.

"This person got a lot of valuable, expensive, electronic property," said Derek Baliles, spokesperson for Montgomery County police. "Chances are they may return to other neighborhoods."

Most of the cars were parked in their driveways; most were unlocked, although several, including Kimi Cissel’s, were locked and had their windows broken. The Cissels found a heavy screwdriver in Kimi’s car when they discovered the vandalism later that morning.

It was not until later that morning, when residents awoke and discovered the damage or missing items from their cars, that anybody contacted the police. "No one has reported anyone suspicious in the area at the time, and no one called us about the noise," Baliles said.

Theft from cars affects more people in the Washington, D.C. area than any other crime, Baliles said. Many people in the area may have grown up in an environment where it was okay to keep car doors unlocked at home. The unfortunate reality today, said Baliles , is that even people in relatively low-crime areas need to take precautions. (See "How to Help," above.) "The biggest way to prevent this from happening is to remove the temptation for these thieves," Baliles said. "Put the thing out of sight."

THAT MORNING WAS the second time in less than six months that cars in the Avenel are have been burglarized, Cissel said. It is not the only neighborhood that has been struck with a pattern of burglaries in recent months. At least 10 homes were burglarized in the North Potomac and Kentlands areas during a three-week period in late June and early July. Police said many of the victims’ homes were unlocked, and some of the incidents included theft from unlocked garages.

In the Camotop and Falconhurst neighborhoods of Potomac, a series of professional-style burglaries prompted dozens of local residents to meet at Stephen and Theo Hayes’ home in mid-June with police officials and legislators to discuss possible solutions. Nearly two months after the meeting, however, Theo Hayes said the burglaries are still a problem. "They haven’t slowed down," she said, citing two burglaries that happened after the neighborhood meeting. Burglars used a power saw to enter one home on Country Club Drive, according to Theo Hayes.

Lucille Bauer of Montgomery County Police confirmed that there have been four area burglaries since the meeting, including one on Bentcross on July 10 and two on Country Club between July 14 and July 16. "This is still a very high priority with the 1st District," Bauer said, asking that people continue to follow the safety precautions of locking doors and windows, and informing a neighbor when leaving for several days or more.

The Hayeses paid more than $7,000 to trim trees and install more lights around their property, to better illuminate their house at night. The neighborhood’s wooded terrain makes it an inviting target, Theo Hayes said. "We have a lot of trees," she said. "A lot of houses, you can sneak around and no one can see you."

Several ideas emerged from the Hayes’ home in June, but it’s been difficult to pitch large-scale solutions, such as hiring private security. "The problem is, some people will pay for security, some people won’t," Theo Hayes said. "We’ve kind of hit a brick wall.

"It’s not like we have a sanctioned neighborhood association," Theo Hayes continued. "We’re kind of starting from scratch."