A burglar was digging waist deep in the trunk of Janelle Frost's car when police arrived. The thief fled, nabbing only a handful of change before disappearing with an accomplice from the Gilbert neighborhood.
"Lucky for me, I didn't have anything valuable in my car," Frost said.
But nine others who live on her street, near Elliot and Higley roads, weren't as fortunate.
For more than an hour on Jan. 10, the burglars zig-zagged from one driveway to the next, rummaging through cars and removing wallets, car stereos, laptops, iPods and DVD players.
All the cars the burglars hit shared a common connection: They were unlocked.
Car burglaries, not uncommon in Gilbert, Queen Creek and the San Tan area, have escalated recently. In many cases, the burglars are forgoing the traditional "smash and grab" technique and simply combing neighborhoods for unlocked cars.
"These are crimes of opportunity," Gilbert Sgt. Mark Marino said. "You've got to lock your vehicle and put things out of sight. Don't make yourself an easy target."
Marino said it's uncommon to have a string of 10 cars burglarized in the same location. However, car burglaries often occur in clusters.
When people leave car doors unlocked and keep valuables in plain sight, burglars can sweep through an area in a matter of minutes, Marino said.
In the past two weeks, there have been more than 90 car burglaries in Gilbert, many focused in small areas. Authorities have reported nearly 80 in the Johnson Ranch area in Pinal County.
The Pinal County Sheriff's Office has increased patrols to combat the increase in Johnson Ranch. So far, the added manpower has helped, Lt. William Haigh said.
But he said the extra heat put on the area may have pushed burglars elsewhere.
Queen Creek is battling a fresh dose of burglaries, Mayor Art Sanders said.
He said a $3,500 camera was stolen from his unlocked car last week and several of his neighbors also were hit.
Chandler police detective Dave Ramer lives near the mayor and has heard of the recent burglaries.
The problem, he said, is residents feel secure at home and can get complacent.
"People should realize that just because they live in a nice area, it doesn't mean they aren't immune to these types of crimes," Ramer said.
"The bad guys like to come to nice neighborhoods because they know they will find nice things."
Officials said burglars can be anyone. But often they are teenagers or drug users looking to make some quick cash, Marino said.
He added that because the crimes happen so quickly, it's difficult to catch the thieves. Little evidence also is left behind, and it's nearly impossible to track stolen items.
In the Jan. 10 incident, Gilbert police searched the area through the night with a helicopter but no arrests were made.
While arrests don't come easy, victims are still urged to report thefts so authorities can identify hot spots and increase attention in the areas.
"This is a crime that can only be solved when the community and law enforcement work together to solve it," Haigh said.
"The people in the neighborhoods know far better than we do about what is normal for their area or block," he said. "If someone does not belong or a vehicle is hanging around and it should not be there, the people need to call."