Street gangsters do not bother with petty crimes like breaking into vehicles. They leave that stuff to junkies.

And when a junky starts slinking around in the dark on quiet neighborhood streets and in apartment parking lots, he knows what the gangsters really want. Like that Smith & Wesson 9 mm automatic swiped last month from inside a Ford F-150 on Satilla Drive in southern Glynn County. It was easy enough. The gun owner did not lock the vehicle’s doors.

Formerly the property of a legal gun owner, that stolen firearm could be anywhere from Miami to Atlanta by now, said Brunswick Police Chief Kevin Jones. If so, the gun is not only part of the street gang menace in another city, but its transfer also likely put more dope on the streets, he said.

More and more these days, guns are currency in street gang circles, Jones said.

“Guns are their new hot commodity,” he said. “Even over money, they prefer guns. They trade back and forth, guns for drugs, between Atlanta, Savannah, Miami and Brunswick. They steal from citizens who have guns legally.”

The street gangs operating in Brunswick are coordinated, well-organized and notorious, Jones said. Included are the Gangster Disciples, the Bloods and the Crips.

While narcotics are still the stock and trade of the gangsters, guns are as good as money during transactions, Jones said. Localized street gangs like the 912s and 305s “have been swallowed up” by the larger street gangs, he said.

There may be an obvious reason why a small town like Brunswick is linked in a network that includes larger cities like Savannah and big cities like Atlanta and Miami, police say.

Some 120 guns have been stolen from vehicles in unincorporated Glynn County over the past 12 months, according to Glynn County Police Department records. The bulk of those firearms were stolen from unlocked vehicles, as is the case with most automobile burglaries.

Ten firearms were stolen from vehicles in the city of Brunswick in the past six months alone, according to Brunswick Police records.

Records show that 16 percent of all auto burglaries in the city going back to Aug. 1 involved the theft of a firearm. This includes a shotgun, an AR15 and eight handguns.

Police said 71 percent of the 62 auto burglaries reported in the city during that time involved unlocked vehicles.

Theft from vehicles is almost always a crime of opportunity, police said. Criminals go down streets or prowl parking lots, checking door handles to locate unsecured vehicles.

“They very rarely use forced entry into a vehicle,” Capt. Tom Jump of the Glynn County Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Unit told The News last year. “They will walk a neighborhood, just checking door handles; and they’re pretty successful at it.”

These crimes are very often perpetrated by drug addicts who are driven to feed their addiction, Jones said.

“It starts with the street-level drug users,” Jones said. “They’re the ones going around stealing people’s property. From there the guns go up the chain of gang member affiliates. The largest percentage of our crime is initiated from gang members or affiliates .”

Brunswick police are combatting the narcotics trade with the Drug Enforcement Unit. County Police operate the Special Investigation Unit. Investigators from both units work together when needed, Jones said.

One simple thing residents can do is lock their vehicle doors, he said. However, he advised lawful gun owners not to leave their firearms behind when they lock their vehicles up for the night.

The street value of guns is such that crooks will take risks.

On a dark morning back in October, a thief smashed the window of pickup truck on Crispen Boulevard, absconding with a Ruger SR40 handgun.

“Lock your car doors,” Jones urged. “Don’t leave valuables in plain sight and secure your firearms. At least don’t leave them in the cab of the car or truck. That’s the easiest access for a crook. Put them in your trunk, at least.

“But really, guns should not be left behind inside a vehicle at all.”

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