ORLANDO, Fla. -- Got a flat-screen TV? Keep your eye on it.
Law-enforcement officials in Central Florida -- and across the country -- have noted a sharp rise in flat-screen-television thefts.
In Orlando, police reports obtained by the Sentinel show 283 televisions -- most of them flat screens -- were stolen from homes and businesses in the first four months of this year. That compares with 104 television thefts -- many of those also flat panels -- for the same period last year.
The Orange County Sheriff's Office says thieves took 92 flat screens from businesses in the January-to-April time period for 2008, compared with 25 for the same period in 2007. The sets also are targeted in home break-ins, the Sheriff's Office said.
"It's a hot item," sheriff's spokesman Carlos Padilla said.
Crooks covet the slim TVs for many of the same qualities that have made them popular in living rooms, bars and restaurants. Even though the sets have bigger screens, they take up less space and don't weigh nearly as much as older, picture-tube TVs, making them easier to grab and transport.
The slick-looking TVs are also in high demand -- and easier to unload on the black market.
"I have asked [suspects], 'Why are you taking TVs?' and a lot of them say they are easy to get rid of," said Bill Eastwood, a detective in the property division with the Orlando Police Department. The stolen flat screens are most likely sold, say law-enforcement officials, but -- in an increasingly anonymous mar- ketplace -- they're harder to track.
Eastwood said most units are not recovered.
'Straight for the plasmas'
Though flat screens are often grabbed in home break-ins, detectives here and in other cities say burglars now seem to be targeting more small businesses, such as restaurants, nail salons and real-estate offices.
"They go straight for the plasmas [TVs] and rip them off the wall," said Detective Jim Gregory of the Orange County Sheriff's Office. "Then they leave, and it is a quick job."
Many of the targets lack the stringent security found at consumer-electronics retail shops, police say. And they often have nice TVs prominently displayed.
"If you own a nail salon, you are not going to put in state-of-the-art security," said Bill Cassell, spokesman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. "They are not used to having to secure things of value."
In the past few months, Cassell said, his department has responded to a number of "smash-and-grab" break-ins -- in which a burglar breaks a window or glass door to grab a thin TV visible from the street.
In Charlotte, N.C., police say they also are responding to more flat-screen heists.
"As the flat-screen prices have gotten more affordable, more people have them, and they are easier to carry," said Jim Wilson, burglary sergeant in the property-crimes division for the Charlotte Police Department. "It used to be you needed two people to carry a TV; now you can have just one."
In Orlando, companies that rent audio and visual equipment to trade shows, hotels and conventions also have reported a string of recent break-ins.
'It is a big concern'
The problem has become so severe, says one owner, that several video-equipment-rental companies have banded together to form a neighborhood-watch group in Orange County.
"It is a big concern," said the owner, who asked not to be identified because of a fear of repeat thefts. The owner said his business had been broken into twice since January, with losses estimated in the "tens of thousands of dollars."
The intruders in both instances removed a number of large flat screens and circumvented his alarm system, he said.
"It's a very organized group," the owner said.
Joe LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation, said the rise of online-auction and classified sites -- where stolen goods can be sold quickly and anonymously -- has helped fuel large-scale heists of electronic goods. A flat-screen TV, for example, can fetch a higher price on the Internet than at a flea market or pawnshop, he said.
"It's much easier to list an item online," he said. "There are lower risks and higher rewards."
PROTECTING YOUR TELEVISION
*Make sure your residence can be seen clearly from the street by trimming shrubbery and bushes. Burglars are less likely to target a home where doors and windows can be viewed by neighbors.
*Use exterior lights at night. If you don't have motion-sensitive units, consider installing them.
*Lock doors, windows and other entryways.
Source: Orange County Sheriff's Office
KEEP YOUR TV SAFE
*If you have an alarm system, call your alarm company to make sure it is working. If you don't have a system, consider installing one.
*Keep a record of serial numbers. Pawnshops are required to submit serial numbers of goods to the police. In addition, cops will need a number to track down a stolen TV.
*Secure your flat screen so it is harder to remove.
*If you can afford it, keep a few lights on when closed.
*Make sure the alarm system is working.
*Install a video surveillance system if you don't have one. If you have a system, make sure cameras cover storefronts and all potential entrances and exits. Double-check to make sure cameras are working.
Source: Orange County Sheriff's Office