BELTON — Lock your car every night.
It’s a message the Belton Police Department routinely tells residents at 9 p.m. — most notably on social media with posts tagged #9PMRoutine.
Yet, despite those community policing efforts and others, police continue to see high numbers of vehicle burglaries and automobile thefts, city officials said.
Vehicle burglaries in 2020 increased in Belton by 117%, Gene Ellis, Belton’s assistant city manager and police chief said.
The city’s biggest crime problem could be diminished if more residents lock their vehicles.
“Car thieves often target guns, cash and power tools, as well as keys left inside vehicles,” Ellis said. “In most of the car thefts, keys were left inside the car (fobs for cars with push-button ignitions).”
The department’s message of Hide, Lock, Take is effective since video surveillance often shows thieves move on when a door is locked, he said.
Violent crimes in 2020 increased 22% in Belton as the coronavirus pandemic affected Bell County and the state, he said.
“The pandemic truncated and even closed court dockets. Jails operated under restrictions, including the quick release of some offenders. These factors delayed consequences for some,” Ellis said. “In some cases offenders committed even more crimes while out on bond awaiting trial. These same factors also impacted arrests, which were down 42% in 2020.”
Ellis said limited government operations affected some investigations.
“It was difficult to serve warrants with courts not operating and jails operating under pandemic-related restrictions,” Ellis said. There is a correlation between the increase in some crimes and the decrease in arrests caused by the pandemic.”
Crime reports from 2020 were recently released and show the pandemic’s impact on crime.
Belton saw two homicides in 2020 — the most since 2016 — despite no killings in the city during the two previous years.
Two teenage boys were killed in separate, unrelated shootings. Suspects have been charged in both cases.
On Jan. 2, 2020, Joshua Reyner, 15, was killed during a drug deal outside a residence at 1610 S. Wall St.
On Aug. 27, Fernando Martinez, 16, was fatally shot in the 400 block of Smith Street near the Lions Field baseball complex. A suspect told authorities in an arrest affidavit the shooting occurred during an illegal firearm sale but the victim’s sister told the Telegram her brother was not involved with guns.
Two homicides have been recorded in Belton in 2021 so far. One suspect is identified but remains on the loose, while the investigation continues into the second fatal shooting.
Deon Shamburger, 34, remains wanted for his role in the July 30 shooting of Jamel Jones, 39. An arrest warrant was issued for Shamburger, accused of shooting Jones after a dispute. He is still considered armed and dangerous, Belton spokesman Paul Romer said.
“We have had tips suggesting he may still be in the area and have had tips suggesting he is not in Texas any longer,” Ellis previously said.
Ellis said the department investigated a number of tips, provided information on the Crime Stoppers reward to the public as well as on some individuals.
The agency is working with federal partners after investigators pursue leads to find Shamburger, Ellis said.
Belton Police are investigating to find the killer of a Euless man, who died from his injuries after he crashed a white Chevrolet Trailblazer into the Lampasas River following a shooting at 8:32 p.m. Sept. 12 on southbound Interstate 35.
Antonio Alvidrez, 32, died from his injuries at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Temple, Romer said. Alvidrez’s vehicle had bullet holes in it after he was shot near a bridge over the Lampasas River, where he crashed.
Belton Police are trying to determine why the shooting occurred as they seek assistance from the public to identify a suspect and the suspect’s car.
“Belton Police Department often uses partnerships that have been previously established with state and local partners to collaborate resources and share information on investigations that may or may not be linked,” Belton Deputy Chief Larry Berg said in a statement.
Anyone with information can call 254-933-5840 or text tips to 254-217-6764 with any information.
Some violent crimes slightly decreased in 2020 while others slightly increased, according to police reports.
Sexual assaults dropped to 16 in 2020 from 22 the previous year. Seven robberies were reported in 2020, two fewer than in 2019. Aggravated assaults, however, rose to 17 in 2020, four more than in 2019.
The number of burglaries of residences and buildings — 56 total — was slightly less for 2020 as 57 were recorded the year prior.
Theft and larceny cases increased to 456 in 2020 from 366 in 2019.
Twenty-nine auto theft/unauthorized use of a motor vehicle cases occurred in 2020. Only nine were reported in 2019 after 18 were reported in 2018, figures show.
“Violent crimes are abhorrent, and thankfully we have relatively few when compared to larger cities,” Ellis said. “As a mid-size community, a few more or a few less crimes in a given category can produce distorted year-to-year percentages. Right now, we don’t have a good way to quantify the impact of our community policing model, but we believe it is key to deterring crime and that it helps some people to reevaluate their behavior.”