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UPDATED: Commuters victimized by vandals at park and ride

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It was an unwelcome start to the weekend Friday for some Cottage Grove commuters: seven vehicles were broken into at the Metro Transit Cottage Grove Park and Ride lot, the first such incident on a similar scale, Cottage Grove Police said, since security cameras were installed last year.

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The break-ins were reported shortly after 3 p.m., when express buses from Minneapolis and St. Paul began returning commuters to their vehicles.

Hundreds of commuters park their cars, trucks, minivans and SUVs each weekday in the lot, which sits on a secluded stretch of West Point Douglas Road that police say leaves it vulnerable to acts of vandalism and theft.

Cottage Grove Police Sgt. James Smith said break-ins at the Metro Transit-operated park and ride have decreased since the Twin Cities' mass transit provider placed security cameras in the lot as a deterrent to would-be vandals.

"It hasn't been as bad since the cameras went in," Smith said.

Temporary surveillance cameras were installed last summer after a push from local officials and commuters following a string of break-ins at the park and ride in late-2007 and early-2008. Cottage Grove Police also stepped up patrols of the lot.

Metro Transit Police is responsible for investigating occurrences of vandalism and theft at park and rides. Lt. Steve Bakeberg, a Metro Transit Police investigator, said on Monday he had requested video from the lot's surveillance cameras and called the break-ins "a priority for us."

"Hopefully we can get a suspect description, vehicle description, that kind of thing," Bakeberg said.

Surveillance video from incidents at other park and ride lots has been used to successfully prosecute similar cases in the past, he said.

Cottage Grove Police Sgt. Smith said the long weekend -- area students were out of school Thursday and Friday while the state's teacher's union met for its annual seminar and convention -- is a likely contributor to the break-ins.

"We've noticed an increase in car break-ins during an MEA week," Smith said. When school is out, "crime goes up."

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