Bastrop Police Chief Downey Black cautions residents to make sure vehicles are not only secured but also have no valuables displayed, even while attending church.

"This is the time of year we see increased break-ins in vehicles," Black said. "Thieves are looking for an easy way to get money and breaking into a car with a purse or wallet laying on the seat is one way to steal and be gone from the scene."

In the past several weeks, vehicle break-ins at churches have increased.

Suspects are breaking out windows, snatching what is in plan sight and moving on before they are discovered. The recent break-ins have occurred both during the day and evening services of churches on Leavell, East Madison and Harrington.

Black advises taking purses and billfolds in when leaving a vehicle in any parking lot as well as not having small items such as sunglasses or change laying out where it can be observed by anyone passing the vehicle.

"Don't make it easy for someone to steal these items and report any suspisious activity to the police department by calling 281.1322 or 911," Black said.

Because auto break-ins are usually a crime of opportunity, here are some other ways to keep vehicles safe while unattended:

Load and hide items before you reach your destination.

By the time you pull in any parking spot, everything you plan to leave in the car should already be well stowed and hidden. To pull into your spot, and then take your most valuable items and pack them in the trunk, is to broadcast to anyone within view exactly where to focus their attentions if they want to rip you off. The best approach is to put your things in the trunk or other safe compartment before even getting in the car at the beginning of your trip.

Park "trunk out." If storing items in your trunk, point the trunk out into the lot aisle, where more people can see anyone trying to break in. Don't give thieves the opportunity to use your car as cover while ripping you off.

Assume in most cases thieves want to steal your car outright.

It turns out that most thieves will try to steal a car outright rather than break into a car; if there is anything valuable inside, they can take it and dump the vehicle, and certainly there is a market for hot cars as well. For this reason, parking in a well-lit place where there is likely to be some foot traffic is always a good idea. Similarly, visual cues that might deter a thief can be critical -- even if they are just for show. Things like a steering wheel lock or a blinking alarm system light will inspire thieves to move on to the next vehicle, even if the alarm is not activated.

A neat car is less likely to get robbed.

A car that is filled with jackets or beach towels that appear to be covering items of value, or that has wires sticking out here and there suggesting that electronic devices may also be stowed, are much more likely to attract interest. If a potential thief sees nothing but car upholstery, he or she is less likely to be curious about what might be hidden in the car.

Check for valuables as soon as returning to car.

If there are any suspicions of a break-in, make sure nothing was stolen before leaving. When surveying your vehicle, keep in mind that thieves know what to take -- often items not noticed until you are long gone. For example, a common tactic is to take a camera out of a camera bag, but leave the bag behind; it looks like it was undisturbed so you won't figure it out for hours or days.