KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knoxville Police Department said that so far this year, 27 guns have been stolen from cars. At this time last year, 17 guns were reported stolen from cars.
"We tell people time and time again, do not leave your gun in your car. Someone will steal it and commit a crime," Knoxville Chief of Police Paul Noel said.
In total, KPD said 115 guns were stolen from cars in 2022. In most cases, they said they believe the car was unlocked. They said that an unlocked car is like an invitation for thieves.
Police also said last year, more than 1,600 vehicles were broken into and for around 55% of those break-ins, the method of entry is unknown. KPD said burglars are mostly looking for guns when they break into a car.
Darrell Johnson used to steal from cars and was arrested for it in 1982. He was 17 years old when he served six months after burglarizing cars. Then, he returned to jail for a 26-year sentence after prosecutors said he killed someone in a robbery gone wrong. He was released from jail about five months ago.
"I burglarized cars and I would always find .357s, .380s, 9mm, bulletproof vests. That was mainly our thing," he said. "We don't waste our time. We are going to get what we get out of there. If we get in, we're going to make it count."
He said he would steal cash, jewelry, and bags along with guns. If there was nothing valuable inside the car, he said, he would remove parts from it. He also said that he could be in and out of a car within minutes.
"We got to be almost professionals at it," Johnson said.
He said the biggest deterrent is an alarm system. Johnson also said that burglars would usually target populated parking lots such as ones in apartment complexes, schools and hospitals. He also said they would target densely-populated neighborhoods that had little police presence.
To keep cars safe, he said, owners should lock them, park close to a building and make sure to park in a well-lit area.
"They don't want to be exposed because we are too much looking around up under the light, because we've got to know where the enemy is coming from," he said.
He said that he is sharing his experiences because he's served his time, and car burglary is in the past for him.
"I'm doing the godly thing by giving back, because I know there are some things in life I got to patch up. That's one of the things I used to do that I was an expert at," Johnson said.