[image-1] Following a recent home invasion that resulted in sexual assault, Charleston police are attributing the spread of crime into traditionally safer neighborhoods on the prevalence of unlocked vehicles and homes.

Last month, a West Ashley woman reported that she was sexually assaulted after an unknown man entered her home on Chadwick Drive on the evening of May 22. Following an exhaustive search, Charleston police arrested 28-year-old Filiciano Smith, who is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, burglary, kidnapping, and unlawful carrying of a firearm.

“This was a random act. It was not targeted,” said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen.

[image-2]The naming of Smith as a key suspect in the sexual assault followed hundreds of man hours spent investigating the case. Mullen credited the work of his officers and detectives, as well as the Richland County forensics laboratory, who analyzed evidence gathered during the investigation. Following a lengthy analysis of evidence, Mullen says his department received confirmation from the lab earlier this week, and Smith was taken into custody within hours.

Asking what can be done to prevent incidents such as this, Mullen explained that the department has noticed that criminals are targeting lower-crime neighborhoods to carry out thefts involving unlocked vehicles and homes. Police also arrested another man who was charged with allegedly attempting to break into vehicles on the night of May 22 less than half a mile from the scene of the home invasion and assault. This influx of breaking-and-entering cases has contributed to a rise in violent crimes in these areas, according to police.

“As a result of that, what we have seen is kidnappings. We’ve seen robberies, carjackings, and now we’ve seen criminal sexual conduct in a neighborhood that based on what we believe brought the individual there to do car break-ins,” said Mullen. “In these neighborhoods where we’re seeing these car break-ins, what is happening is that all the cars are unsecured, so people are coming into the neighborhoods with really no fear of having to create a lot of noise or suspicious activity.”

According to the Charleston Police Department, 26 handguns have been stolen from unlocked vehicles so far this year. A continued City Paper investigation into firearm thefts shows that a total of 65 guns have been reported stolen from unsecured vehicles throughout the city since August 2016. According to incident reports filed with the Charleston Police Department, a vast majority of these incidents involved the theft of handguns.

In light of this recent spread of violent crime, Chief Mullen is calling on communities to help police by “hardening their neighborhoods” and deter thieves who may go on to commit violent acts.

“For a lot of years, we’ve been talking about how small events can lead to larger situations,” said Mullen. “I think that is exactly what we are seeing here is that because criminals are coming into neighborhoods that they know are easy targets because their vehicles are unsecured, garage doors are left up, so they have easy access to vehicles and homes, they are coming into these neighborhoods and committing crimes. They are stealing guns, and then these guns are going back out into neighborhoods to commit more violent acts.”