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Burglar at National Park Uses a 12-Year-Old as a Lookout, According to Officials

Recently, a burglar targeted vehicles in one of America’s national parks. And it appears he coerced a young girl into helping him commit his crimes. 

The incident put many on edge and raised the question of whether or not we’re safe in our parks.

Today, we’re looking into crimes in some of the country’s most popular destinations. And we’ll give you some pointers on staying safe.

Let’s get into it!

National Park Burglar Uses a Child as a Lookout in Georgia

Officials at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area noticed a spike in burglaries in August 2022. They quickly began investigating and found similarities among many of the reports. Someone was prying open passenger side doors and stealing credit cards to make large purchases soon after the thefts.

In September, park security caught the culprit red-handed. Mihail Ilie was found crouching between vehicles and tampering with a car’s lock. It turns out that the Lawrenceville man was using a 12-year-old girl as a lookout.

Found among Ilie’s belongings were burglary tools and receipts for expensive electronics and jewelry. He was found guilty of two felony charges and sentenced to just over a year in prison. 

Are Burglars a Common Problem in National Parks?

Crime rates in our national parks are relatively low. In fact, they’re some of the safest places in the country. However, offenses aren’t unheard of.

The location of each park is directly related to the types of crimes committed in them. 

For example, national parks in metropolitan areas see more traffic violations, burglaries, and violent offenses. In more remote locations, drug trafficking and environmental crimes, such as pollution, poaching, and fishing violations, are more common. 

Parks along the coast and international borders even see instances of human trafficking.  

Who Investigates Crimes in National Parks?

While park rangers typically handle small cases, it takes a dedicated staff to deal with complex or violent crimes. In addition, the National Park Service (NPS) employs a team of investigators to take on cases outside the scope of the rangers’ abilities. 

These highly-trained individuals form the Investigative Services Branch (ISB). They often have backgrounds in law enforcement or related fields. Their tasks range from investigative services to intelligence analysis. Some even specialize in victim and witness support. 

ISB staff process crime scenes, conduct interviews and interrogations, and perform surveillance when necessary. They’ll even map cell phones, study financial records, and do social media research as part of their investigations.

The NPS employs over 420 ISB personnel who work on-location at national parks around the US.

Are National Park Burglars Charged With Federal Crimes?

Anyone who commits a crime on federal land will be charged with a federal offense. That means burglars who target victims in national parks have committed a federal crime. Even minor infractions, such as vandalism, which the state usually handles, will instead be tried by the feds. 

Other reasons exist for local jurisdictions to hand over legal proceedings to the national government. For example, it’s a federal crime when a transgression occurs in more than one state.

In the case of Mihail Ilie, receipts from multiple states were found in his vehicle. This indicates he’d stolen credit cards in one place, then crossed a state line to make expensive purchases. In other words, he hit a double-whammy of federal offenses.

Regardless of where certain crimes take place, they’ll be handled by the higher-ups. The feds typically handle cases involving mail fraud, armed robbery, arson, assault, and identity theft. 

How to Avoid Being a Target of Burglars While Traveling

While theft occasionally happens, you shouldn’t rethink visiting America’s national parks. However, it would be best to take precautions to ensure you don’t become a target. 

Locking your car doors and windows is a no-brainer. However, determined crooks can still jimmy their way in. You don’t want to give them any reason to get into your vehicle, so putting away all valuables can be a good deterrent. Better yet, keep any expensive equipment with you.

Keeping your car tidy is also smart. Even an empty shopping bag can catch the eye of an opportunistic thief. You may know there’s nothing of value in your vehicle, but someone looking to score might take their chances on a cluttered car over an empty one.

National parks don’t always offer the best or safest parking options. This is one reason they can become a hunting ground for burglars. But choosing a well-lit spot with no shrubbery for bandits to hide behind can help give you a leg up. 

Finally, if you become the victim of any crime, report it to the NPS. They won’t know criminals are afoot unless you make a report.

In fact, that’s precisely why park officials noticed Mihail Ilie the day they busted him. Had his targets not informed officials, they wouldn’t have known to be on the lookout for mischief.

Use Common Sense When Visiting Parks

There’s nowhere on Earth that can guarantee your safety all the time. But whether it’s burglary or violent crime, national parks see fewer offenses than just about anywhere else in the country. Most of the folks you’ll run into are there to enjoy the sights and immerse themselves in nature. 

By using common sense, taking safety measures ahead of time, and staying aware of your surroundings, you shouldn’t need to worry about becoming a victim.

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