The Fort Atkinson Police Department has opened an investigation into four thefts, all of which occurred Saturday night in the city.
Capt. Jeff Davis, of the Fort Atkinson Police Department, said the investigation includes a series of thefts in which personal items were stolen from unlocked cars and in one case a car was stolen from a garage.
The first incident, which occurred on Radloff Street, was reported at 6:25 p.m. The individual at the residence reported personal property stolen from a truck which was parked in the driveway. The individual could not recall if the vehicle was locked, Davis said.
A second incident occurred at 7:25 p.m. on Stacy Lane. An individual at the residence reported that a car was stolen from the garage, he said.
A third incident was reported at 9:03 p.m. An individual on Jamesway Road reported that two unlocked cars on the property were “ransacked,” and personal items were taken from inside one of the vehicles, according to Davis.
Minutes later, at 9:06 p.m., a fourth incident was reported on Nadig Drive where an individual said personal items were stolen from an unlocked vehicle in the driveway.
“We have an open investigation, so there is some information that we are not able to release,” Davis said, noting that all four incidents appeared to exhibit the same modus operandi (MO).
The police captain said the Fort Atkinson Police Department believes that one group is operating in the area, originating either from Madison or Milwaukee. The department is leaning toward Madison as the group’s place of origin because the stolen vehicle was recovered in Dane County, he said.
While the department believes a single group is operating in the area, Davis said, officers don’t know how many are in the group.
Looking back at prior similar situations, he said: “This has been happening in different cities in the area in Dane and Milwaukee counties. The individuals look for unlocked vehicles in a driveway, hit the garage opener, and then go inside and find cars with keys that they can drive away in.
“A general MO for these types of groups is to drive a vehicle here and park it down the street from the residences they hope to target,” Davis added. “Then, several members of the group will get out and start checking car doors to see what’s open. They are not afraid to open a garage door or go into your house if they need to, to find keys.”
In previous cases, the groups have come during the middle of the night, when people are sleeping, and they go inside garages and homes, he indicated.
Looking at circumstances surrounding Saturday’s stolen vehicle, Davis said the department believes the suspects found an unlocked car in the driveway, inside of which they found a remote garage door opener, and then used that to access the garage and steal the vehicle inside.
“In this case, we did recover the vehicle, or at least Dane County recovered it,” he said, adding that the condition of the vehicle was not yet known to the Fort Atkinson Police Department, but that detectives from the department were being sent Monday to process the vehicle as part of the investigation.
Similar groups have come to Fort Atkinson before, Davis said.
“In August of 2019, we had a group come through multiple times in a two-week period. In July of 2020, we had a group come through and there was a pursuit of a vehicle and we arrested some individuals,” he said, adding that he believed four individuals were arrested and their cases still are pending in Jefferson County.
Davis’ advice to the public: “Lock your car doors and do not keep valuables in your cars. If you see something suspicious, say something.”
Residents can help deter groups from targeting Fort Atkinson, he said, by keeping their doors locked, making the community a more difficult environment for those who would perpetrate thefts.
Davis cautioned residents not to engage with individuals they believed to be suspicious, but instead call 911 immediately.
“Give us the best description you can,” he said, adding that those with information or tips also can call (920) 563-7777. Anonymous tips can be left at that number, he noted.