AUSTIN (KXAN) – If you’ve been the victim of burglars in Central Texas, check Facebook. Police are having enough success catching criminals who are hawking stolen goods online there’s talk of bringing on a full-time burglary detective to scour only social media for stolen goods and the crooks who sell them.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” Austin Police Detective Christophe Wood told KXAN. He works a heavy residential burglary caseload with 13 other detectives — each of whom sees five new cases a week, police say. But Wood says he will often make time to browse social media in an effort to find leads. Wood focuses on items such as electronics, jewelry and even firearms that he is confident he can make an arrest by linking the items to similar ones reported stolen to police.
“If they’re selling five different items ranging from TVs to iPods to Nintendo DSs, all without power cords, that’ll catch my interest,” Wood says. “I might try to look up the items that were stolen and compare them to recent burglary reports.”
Stolen guns are the biggest concern for detectives. Firearms are regulated in Texas and can be sold online where there are legitimate gun sale or trade pages on Facebook. There, sellers stake their online reputations on making sure buyers have the proper state firearms licenses. That leaves crooks gravitating to other more innocuous Facebook groups, police say.
Group sites can be public or members-only and go by names like “ATX Sell My Stuff,” “ATX Sell ANYTHING” or “512 Accessories.” Not everything posted is stolen, but when police are able to link a reported item to one listed on these online flea markets, the payoffs can be sweet.
“One day there was a rifle for sale online,” Wood says. “The guy was trying to trade it for another gun or trying to sell it for a really low amount ($300, best offer or trade for two digital cameras). It was a $1,600 rifle, and he didn’t know anything about the rifle. He didn’t know the make … and he was just saying (online) it was a rifle.”
“We ended up going with our firearms unit, ended up doing a search warrant, and we were able to recover two of the stolen firearms from that case,” Wood says. Victor Flores, 22, was arrested and later indicted on charges of misdemeanor unlawful carrying of a weapon and possession of a stolen firearm. The second charge is a much more serious crime — punishable by more than a year in prison. Texas Department of Public Safety records show Flores is already a convicted felon with prior burglaries, which could enhance a sentence if he is convicted.
The owner of the stolen gun had taken a photo of the rifle with scope in its open case before the theft. It looks similar to the one Victor Flores was allegedly selling. Police came to the same conclusion, observing the case, Sako .243 bolt-action rifle, solvents, patches, cleaning rods, distinct deer-head sling and ammunition all appeared identical to each other.
Burglary victim Shirley Shelor says her boyfriend was out running errands last fall and left his guns on the bed. Police say that’s when a man went through an open yard gate and through a large dog door.
“The dogs must have bothered him some because he got in the fridge and got a steak out to try and distract them. It didn’t do a good job,” Shelor tells KXAN. “He just happened to hit the jackpot.”
Shirley filed a police report and Wood began working the case. But she was certain the firearms, including this bolt-action rifle with scope, were as good as gone.
“Detectives have got their hands full. When we called, it took them three hours to get here,” she tells KXAN.
In January 2015, there were 303 written burglary of residence reports, police confirm. That could include burglary of non-residence/sheds or open door cases. But only workable cases with leads are assigned to the detectives, which means each detective gets about five new cases a week.
Also last month burglary detectives wrote warrants including:
|January 2015||January 2014|
|Burglary of residence||42||24|
|Burglary of non-residence||9||5|
While two guns are off the street and back in the hands of their rightful owner, Shelor points out three are still missing, including a second pistol with 20 rounds, a .22-caliber rifle and an AR-15 assault rifle with six loaded 30-round magazines.
“We’re very worried about what someone will do with them,” Shelor says. “That’s our biggest concern … But we’re watching and praying and hoping. You never know.” Shelor says her weapons are normally locked in a large safe or on her person.
KXAN reached out to Facebook’s media team to ask how the website is enforcing its community standards policies regarding the sale of regulated items like firearms.
A spokesperson emailed: “People using Facebook Groups agree to Facebook’s Community Standards. These same guidelines apply to groups that help people buy and sell products. People can report posts promoting items for sale, just as they can with any other content on Facebook. We review reports and remove content that violates our Community Standards.”