SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Sevierville Police Department is warning people of an increase in overnight vehicle burglaries and sharing more about a new tool helping them find thieves.

According to SPD, the thieves are going into neighborhoods in the late evening/early morning hours and checking vehicle doors to see if they are locked.

Vehicle burglaries can also be hard to investigate due to a lack of physical evidence. Investigators rely on any surveillance video nearby and tracking serial numbers of items stolen to recover anything stolen and find the thief.

“In a neighborhood, they can hit a whole neighborhood overnight. A lot of things are going to be stolen, and if it’s just change and cash, mostly it’s hard to track. So that’s why, we really rely on serial numbers and descriptors of things that are stolen to help us chase that down at a later date,” said Graham Brantley, detective sergeant for SPD’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Brantley broke down how a new tool is helping them investigate crimes like vehicle burglaries. According to Brantley, if they issue a geofence search warrant, the department can see technology is being used in the area they are searching. Brantley broke down a possible situation of how geofence search warrants are used.

“Let’s say a neighborhood has 10 vehicle burglaries overnight. If we had kept someone on camera, say 2:00 a.m., there’s two subjects going through neighborhoods and several guns taking out vehicles, bank cards and checks. So those could be used to withdraw money from those person’s account later on, stuff like that, that we know there’s going to be an impact down the road,” said Brantley.

The department will then get a search warrant with a location and time frame and request to see what electronic devices are active and using Wi-Fi cell tower data or satellite data, that in the area and time frame.

“Typically, what happens is we’ll get results back. They’re totally anonymous, randomized numbers,” explained Brantley. “They tell us absolutely nothing, but it’s a ping on the map. And so, you put it into software and it shows a small indicator on the map that tells us that this unknown device was at this location within our time frame.”

“So the next step is another warrant. It goes out and it’s saying out of all these running numbers that I got back from the first one, I want to know more about these five because they follow a pattern,” said Brantley. “It looks like they’re going through yards on my first one, and that could be somebody walking house to house, driveway to driveway, checking doors.”

This warrant will allow the department to receive more information and Brantley explained that it will show the whole path the device took during the time.

“So, for instance, that video that we have of the subject, John Carter, is at 2:00 a.m. in the driveway. When I get this geofence back and it shows this ping is in that driveway at approximately 2:00 a.m. I know that’s the guy on video that’s trying door handles,” said Brantley.

The department then sends in a third warrant requesting specific information for that randomized number.

“They’ll often send us back subscriber information regarding whatever app was on that cell phone that that person was carrying, and we can use that to make the identification,” said Brantley. Overall, the process takes a couple of months.

To help prevent vehicle burglaries, SPD is reminding people to lock their vehicles, remove any valuables and do not leave valuables in plain sight. In addition, they suggest parking in well-lit areas when possible.