Some recent actions by a small Southwest Missouri police department are causing a big stir among residents there. Some of them are saying police need to mind their own business, while others say the police are just trying to be proactive.
Change is part of Daniel Scalf's life.
"They stole the change out of my console," says Scalf.
Scalf's van doors were unlocked, and someone took advantage of the situation.
"But I had an entire book of CD's sitting on the floor board, but they didn't touch it," says Scalf.
Picture the same scenario across the small City of Seneca, population about 2,400, where there's been 33 vehicle break-ins over just the past two months.
"We didn't have this many cars broken-into the entire year last year," says Seneca Police Chief James Altic.
Altic has had enough.
"People leaving their windows down with their purses in their cars," says Altic.
Altic says every one of the vehicle break-ins so far didn't even involve a "break-in."
"Windows down with the keys in the vehicles," says Altic.
Scalf says he got some sense after losing all those cents in his van. He now regularly locks his vehicle doors; a simple solution. But Altic says no matter how much he preaches, people don't get it.
"Hey, it's not Mayberry," says Altic.
So one of his officers one night---the only Seneca Police officer working that night---decided to show people how easy it is to lock vehicle doors by locking the doors himself, while the owners were inside their homes. Some keys were locked inside vehicles. That police officer was looking for a break-in suspect.
"In his mind, he did everything right. He's there by himself. He has no backup," says Altic.
"I can see people being concerned about their privacy being invaded," says Scalf.
Altic says Seneca residents have nothing to worry about if even they open someone else's unlocked vehicle door, and have the right intent.
"We would never arrest you. We would never charge you. If you read Missouri law, there has to be some type of ill intent," says Altic.
Scalf says he sees the overall intent of Seneca police.
Scalf says, "Which would you rather have? Somebody getting in your car, locking it for you so you don't have to worry about anything? Or, somebody getting in, stealing stuff, or even taking your car?"
So the debate continues, with a heads-up to Seneca residents: Chief Altic says next time any of his officers lock vehicles, they'll also knock on home doors.
Police and residents believe the reason why change is widely stolen from vehicles is that it's a quick steal for use at nearby casinos.
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