JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A rash of car break-ins near the Riverside YMCA is the latest aspect of a disturbing trend for the historic neighborhood, according to city leaders.
City Councilman Jim Love, who represents that district, told News4Jax Tuesday that he had just met with the police chief of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office zone that includes Riverside and learned that car burglaries are up 30 to 40 percent over the last year -- including roughly one in 10 car burglaries when a gun is also stolen.
While the incidents usually involve unlocked cars, many people have recently reported having their car windows smashed out just outside the Winston Family YMCA on Riverside Avenue.
Ardis Davis was one the victims who had her car window broken and purse -- containing $300 in cash and many gift cards -- stolen Thursday outside the YMCA's newly constructed facility.
"They actually busted, smashed my window in, reached inside and stole my purse. The gentleman parked next to me, heard it all happen," Davis said.
Davis said she has been going to the Riverside YMCA since the 1990s and nothing like that had ever happened to her before.
"I'm very afraid now. When I go there, I'm looking got a place to park, very leery of the situation because it was a well-lit area. I was parked right behind the Y. The street is dark. There's not lights and I really fear for my life now," Davis said. "I have gone back, but I kind of drive around the lot, 'Oh no. Where am I going to park today? Am I going to be safe? Is someone going to attack me?'"
Gil Smith, News4Jax crime and safety analyst, said gyms can be targets because many people leave visible items inside their vehicles.
"I would highly recommend not leaving your wallet, keys, cellphone in the car. Put it in one of those lockers inside the gym," he said.
Smith also pointed out that the Riverside YMCA has a lot of escape routes.
"These smash and grabs here, in an area where you have the river on one side, a wooded area on the next, you also have construction going on. So if someone is smashing a window, it may not be unusual to hear some type of loud noise," Smith said.
The Winston Family YMCA released the following statement Tuesday:
"At the Y, we are committed to ensuring the safety of our members and their personal belongings,” said Bob Conklin, vice president of operations and executive director at Winston Family YMCA. “We encourage and remind our employees and members at all branch locations to secure valuables and lock car doors to minimize the risk of theft."
According to the JSO crime-mapping tool, there have been 65 car burglaries over the last four weeks within a one-mile radius of the Riverside YMCA.