Auto burglary and auto theft make up a huge portion of an officer's report writing time. Anyone who has ever worked dayshift knows how many of these calls come in as soon as people wake up and check on their vehicles (or where their vehicle was the night before). While taking these reports, we get to hear the "obvious" ways victims made their car look like a glowing beacon at night to burglars.
"I left it unlocked" is always a good one, but "I left my purse and wallet on the front passenger seat" is even better. The all-time favorite has to be, "I left it running in the driveway to let it warm up." This is even better when it's 80 degrees outside at the time.
While these are always somewhat comical to hear, they underscore a real lack of knowledge on the public's part when it comes to preventing these two crimes. And who does that responsibility fall on? Yup, you got it…that would be us.
The people in our communities have better opportunities to prevent their cars from being stolen or burglarized than we as officers could ever expect to have. They can take simple steps to make thieves turn and look somewhere else for their next victim. It's their job to do these steps, but it's our job to teach them how. Are we doing this as officers? I'd venture to say nationwide, probably not as well as we would like to be.
Remember, educating your community doesn't have to be at a city hall session or a one-hour block at a citizen's group meeting. While these may be good ideas, they do take time and effort to put together, something many officers have a significant lack of when their shifts start. Educating can be as simple as spreading the word one person at a time.
One of the best times to inform people of these tips would be when they are most apt to listen: when they are reporting a burglary or theft. While the information may not help them with that specific case, it will help them in the future. Plus, most people will spread the word to their friends and family so they don't become victims as well. Those tips you share with one person may reach dozens more. Some agencies have made up small brochures containing tips on auto theft and burglary prevention. These can be great to hand out while taking reports of the same.
So, in the interest of keeping it short and sweet for people who have just become a victim of auto theft or auto burglary, here are two tried and tested tips to share with people when it comes to preventing a re-occurrence of the same crime. They are short and sweet, but can make a huge difference to the people in your community, not to mention your crime stats.
"Warming Up" the Car
Let's get the biggest and most obvious one out of the way first. While this may be a valid tactic in the middle of winter in Buffalo, N.Y.…it does not need to happen during a Florida summer. Still, every day people walk outside and start up their vehicle, then leave it running while they go make their coffee or get their morning paper. Meanwhile, our friendly neighborhood car thief slides into his new ride and drives away without having to lift a finger. These victims practically gave their car away, although they may not be aware of how they did so. That's where we as officers come in; it's our job to tell them how to prevent this.
Tell people there is no reason to leave their car running while they walk away. Although it may be the way they have always done it, it only takes once for a thief to make it their last. Remember to tell people thieves are attracted to nice neighborhoods for these reasons. Criminals know what television doesn't show our citizens: the better the neighborhood, the more valuable the vehicle and its contents. Since all thieves know this, our citizens need to know it, too.
People can still warm up their car, but tell them to stay inside it while they do so. Or, make a duplicate key and lock the doors while it's warming up. Either way, they will be preventing their car from driving off without them…literally.
Secure and Hide Valuables
Leaving a purse or wallet on the front seat of a car is simply inviting a window smash. This is Car Burglary 101, people! Thieves know they can literally window-shop while walking through any large parking lot. Shopping malls are notorious for this. Rushed shoppers run into the mall after work while leaving their checkbooks, purses, wallets, and laptops sitting on the front passenger seat in full view for all to see. During the holiday season, this gets even worse as those same shoppers add unwrapped presents, such as high-dollar electronics to the mix. Why not add a sign advertising the stuff you want to give away? Criminals have a word for these kinds of people: easy targets.
While this may seem like common sense to us, it isn't common knowledge for most residents of your city. They need to be educated on ways to become less of a target, and rely on us to do just that. That is part of our job, isn't it, to serve and to protect…and to educate? We as officers are in the best position to empower the residents of our community to prevent themselves from becoming a victim. It shouldn't be a question of if we do this, but of how we do this.
Educating the public on these and other simple tips will help a lot in reducing both auto theft and auto burglary statistics in your community. Consider getting your agency to help put together a small brochure or tip booklet to hand out when taking these reports, or to hand out at the shopping malls around the holiday season. There are many ways to get the word out, so pick one and start educating!