Behind the scenes with Winston-Salem investigators tasked with solving vehicle break-ins

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – So far this year, Winston-Salem police say they’ve responded to 996 reports of vehicles being broken into or stolen in the city.

“We’re getting multiple reports, sometimes daily,” said Investigator Stephen Horsley, one of three district investigators in the Winston-Salem Police Department’s Field Services Bureau.

Vehicle break-ins are one of the most common, yet preventable crimes in the city. On Thursday, FOX8 went on a ride along with Horsley to see how the investigators respond to and solve the crimes.

“We mainly focus on auto break-ins and larcenies of automobiles,” Horsley said of himself and his fellow investigators, who also look into organized retail crime and any case which might need an expanded investigation beyond how ordinary patrol officers respond.

“It can be tedious and kind of frustrating,” Horsley said, of the amount of auto break-ins which could have been prevented.

The first call we responded to was that of a truck broken into at a Winston-Salem mall. The victim told investigators that personal items had been stolen after he failed to lock his truck.

“You have that ah-ha moment of, ‘I didn’t think it was going to happen, it’s happened and if I would have just done this,’” Horsley said, recalling the reactions the investigators often see from victims.

The investigators also work with surrounding agencies. They say, in the last six months, they’ve worked on cases with Greensboro, High Point, Forsyth County, Guilford County, Yadkin County and Jonesville law enforcement.

“Stronger than 90 percent are all crimes of opportunity, and its doors unlocked, valuables being left visible,” Horsley detailed.

After leaving the scene of the truck break-in, Horsley met one of his fellow investigators, where they recovered a checkbook they say was stolen out of Greensboro.
“We’re able to do things like this and get over and help get our citizen’s property back,” he said.

But, as they were looking into the stolen checkbook, they received another call that a vehicle stolen on the north side of Winston-Salem had been recovered in High Point.

Horsley said he and his two fellow investigators recovered or seized $250,257 worth of property in 2016. Thus far in 2017, they’ve seized or recovered $87,636 worth of property.

“Recording those serial numbers is the number one priority thing that can really help in recovering property,” Horsley said.

He added that, since the beginning of 2012, the three Field Services Bureau District Investigators have arrested 560 people for various crimes throughout the city.

“Please lock your doors, and then, the serial numbers are a major thing because we solve a lot of cases with those and the third thing is just, know where you’re at,” Horsley said. “Know where you’ve parked.”

Winston-Salem police say they responded to 916 reports of auto break-ins and larcenies in the first half of 2016, and 1,114 in the second half, totaling 2,030 for the year.