It’s like taking candy from a baby. They walk nonchalantly past lines of vehicles parked on Brookfield streets, checking door handles. If the door is locked, they keep on walking. If not …

Since Oct. 1, Brookfield police have recorded 36 vehicle break-ins — and the number keeps rising. Whoever is responsible isn’t looking for any big haul. Often the culprit leaves with nothing. But just as often small items are targeted — loose change, purses, wallets, cigarettes, bottles of cologne, sunglasses, CDs. Maybe the odd GPS unit, which can be easily and quickly pawned for cash.

“In these instances it’s been money and things that you can’t easily trace back,” said Brookfield police Lt. Edward Petrak.

The most common denominator? The vehicles in almost every instance have been left unlocked.

Police have created a map pinpointing where the break-ins have been occurring, and it boils down to two principal locations. Most of the activity has been taking place in north central Brookfield, between 31st Street and Brookfield Avenue, particularly along Vernon and Sunnyside avenues.

Another spree has been happening on the very south end of Brookfield, particularly west of Maple Avenue.

“We think we have two different crews we’re dealing with here,” said Petrak.

After a rash of car break-ins in early October, Brookfield police called in officers from the Major Case Assistance Team (MCAT), a coalition of suburban police departments that assist each other to investigate important crimes.

For two days in early October, MCAT officers made their presence known by stopping people wandering the streets late at night, inquiring what their business was and so forth.

“Part of the strategy, even if we can’t catch someone red-handed, is if we can make contact with the guys who are doing it, it might put an end to it,” Petrak said.

After that, the incidents died down. But in late October the activity picked back up, particularly north of the railroad tracks. The latest incident was reported on the morning of Nov. 18 in the 3100 block of Harrison Avenue. The car was unlocked. Three CDs were taken from the center console.

On Saturday, Oct. 16 just after noon, two Brookfield detectives, Lt. James Burdett and Sgt. Terry Schreiber, led a cadre of four Cub Scouts from St. Louise de Marillac Pack 111, where Burdett is a scout leader, down Vernon Avenue, passing out 300 fliers to residents, warning them of the spree and urging them to take precautions — like locking doors, not leaving valuables inside vehicles and calling police for suspicious incidents.

At least one of those handed a flier on Vernon told police his wife’s car had been burglarized the previous week.

And Brookfield officers are again trying to make their presence known at night, walking through alleys and stopping suspicious subjects.

The motivation for the break-ins is often drug-related, said Petrak.

“Typically we find the ones we arrest have a history of drug offenses in their backgrounds,” said Petrak. “Sometimes it’s teenagers out at night who are bored. But if it’s adults, there are typically drug-related reasons behind it.”

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