CASCADE COUNTY - Great Falls community members rallied behind one of their neighbors online and in person this week, after someone broke into her car.
Exhausted from an hours-long drive, Local Stephanie Newman said she didn't hear her car alarm sound off from a nearby alleyway overnight. After filing a virtual police report, she took to social media, posting pictures of broken glass she found shattered across her driver's seat.
"I took a step back and I'm like, 'Oh my goodness!' I was shocked! Because I was like, why would somebody do this?' said Newman, and she’s not alone. So far officers responded to over 450 similar break-ins this year, according to the Great Falls Police Department (GFPD), which typically increase during hunting and holiday seasons.
"[This happens] around the holidays when people have gifts that they've left in their car,” said Lt. Doug Mahlum with GFPD. “It's just a crime of opportunity… [suspects] would just move through a neighborhood and check doors."
In 2018, GFPD tackled 627 cases of theft from motor vehicles, with only 15 related arrests that year. According to Mahlum, a lack of evidence is one of several factors that can make moving forward in these types of investigations challenging.
“The stuff that’s stolen may not make it into a pawn shop to where we can follow up with a lead. Things that are stolen out of vehicles may not have serial numbers,” said Mahlum. “They’re difficult to follow up on because we oftentimes have no suspect information, and not a lot of evidence is left behind.
Newman didn't have anything of value stolen, but says she still wanted to raise awareness of situations like her own. "Social media right now is huge. That's one of the biggest outlets of finding out who else is a victim,” she said.
In the process, her post received over 100 comments, with others sharing their stories, lending words of support and even offering to fix up her window free of charge.
"That just shows humanity, that shows that people do care. There are still good people in this world,” said Newman.
A friend saw her post, and repaired the window soon after, much to Newman’s surprise. Now able to drive comfortably once again, Newman says she's grateful to everyone in the community for reaching out.
Despite what happened, Newman still recommends locking parked vehicles for your own security. Additionally, to lower the chance of theft, GFPD encourages the public to mind any belongings in their cars while keeping them out of sight.