String of car burglaries in Destin leaves victims on alert

Jordan Swanson

When a thief broke in to a Destin woman’s car, they didn’t just steal her pocket change. They stole her family’s sense of security.

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, had her car burglarized at her Calhoun area home three weeks ago.

“I got into it the next morning and there was sand all over my seats, and everything had be rifled through,” she said.

Her gift cards and all of her change were gone.

The car was parked near the front door of the house under sensor lights.

“We just felt we were violated,” she said, adding that the incident traumatized her daughter.

Both her and her neighbor’s vehicles were broken into during the nighttime hours on weekdays. Last week, her mother’s neighborhood near the Destin duck pond had multiple unlocked cars broken into. One of which had its stereo stolen.

“Something has to be done about it,” she said. “It’s getting scary.”

The victim said that she didn’t file a police report because “I felt stupid that I left my car unlocked.”

Now the family is double checking that car doors are locked, adding another outdoor security light and keeping their dogs outside for protection.

“We’re all on alert and it’s just sad,” she said. “Individually, everybody needs to keep themselves safe.”

From March 1 to Sept. 26, there were 1,671 stolen items reported by victims of car burglaries in Okaloosa County as provided by the IT Department at the Sheriff’s Office. Some victims reported multiple stolen items.

Among those items were 87 radio/stereos, 243 items of clothing, purses or wallets, 240 credit cards, 36 pieces of jewelry, 60 pieces of sports equipment, 157 cases of cash or currency being swiped. In 47 cases, thieves stole parts of the automobile itself.

In 2006, the number of reported car burglaries in Okaloosa County was 649, increasing to 854 in 2010. The number of incidents for 2011 totaled 787, and so far for 2012 the number is 543.

“The main thing we would want to stress in reference to the car break-ins is lock your car and never leave any valuables in plain sight,” said Michele Nicholson, public information officer for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. “And keep in mind that if your wallet or purse is stolen, a spin-off crime we see from car break-ins is identity theft, and that can be a major headache for the victim to resolve. Prevention is always the best method.”

Harley Van Hyning, who lives in a townhouse development on Holiday Isle in Destin, said since the beginning of the year, there have been at least six vehicle break-ins.

“We haven’t had any recently, but during summer it seemed like it was every other week there was something that happened,” Van Hyning said, adding that items were also being stolen off of peoples’ front porches.

His roommate’s and two neighbor’s cars were targeted, one of which was burglarized twice.

Van Hyning said that the thieves mostly stole cash, and that in his friend’s case they left the electronics in the car and went straight for the money.

“That’s the one thing I’ve seen at night — the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t really cruising around,” he said. “They’d always be sitting at Destin Pointe waiting for people to run a stop sign or something like that.”

Van Hyning said he would like to see more police cars patrolling the area during the early morning hours of around 3-4 a.m. because the break-ins seem to happen when people are sleeping.

In 2011, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Okaloosa County Parks and Recreation Department, and Target joined forces to promote a public education campaign to remind residents and tourists: “Lock your car, Take your keys, Hide your belongings.”

“We’ve tried to push to encourage people to lock their car doors, since the vast majority of all our break-ins are to unlocked cars,” said Nicholson.

If you have any questions or need additional information on how to protect your car, please call the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Specialist Ashley Bailey at 651-7153 or email at

To report a crime, contact the Sheriff’s Office at 651-7400, or Emerald Coast Crime Stoppers to remain anonymous at 863-TIPS.  

Auto burglary and theft prevention tips provided by Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office: - Close your windows and lock your doors (the simplest and easiest prevention technique). - Take your keys with you. - Remove (hide) valuables or place them in the trunk of your automobile. - Remove “pull-out” style radio faceplates. - Park in well-lit areas when possible. - Park where your car will be easily and frequently viewed. - Park in your garage, if you have one. - Use a car alarm that will alert anyone nearby.