Earlier today, police arrested two men for allegedly breaking into cars at the government plaza parking deck in the center city. Last month, local police and federal authorities said they broke up an organized crime ring that stole checkbooks from cars, then used them to make phony deposits into the suspects' bank accounts. That means many people were victimized twice, first by broken windows and stolen goods, then later when money disappeared from bank accounts.
Last year, thefts from autos accounted for nearly one in every four crimes, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Crime Statistics. But police have long contended that people can "harden" themselves to these types of crimes. One officer told me he takes every thing out of his car when he leaves. (I contended that a messy car practically lived in by, say, a reporter would make it hard for a thief to get in and out inconspicuously.)
The car break-in story is a bit more nuanced than that. For years, investigators didn't go to the scene of car break-ins because the crimes had such a low solve rate. Instead, the department fielded reports over the phone or via the Internet. I've taken a number of calls from people incensed that police didn't send someone to dust for fingerprints on their car. Car break-ins went down after Rodney Monroe became chief in 2009 and changed the policy.
Through it all, police used public awareness campaigns to get car owners to turn their vehicles into less-desirable targets. A few years back, police launched a television campaign encouraging people to take small, easily-pawned goods out of their car. They reiterated that advice before Memorial Day weekend, when thousands of visitors were expected in the city for race week.
Here are some of the better tips:
- Lock your car doors and windows
- Install removable electronics, such as CD players, that you can take with you when you leave.
- Don't leave anything visible. Tempting items include small electronics, a purse or computer bag
- Avoid putting valuables in the trunk once you arrive at your location. Some thieves watch parking lots waiting for victims to stow things, then break a window and pull the trunk release
- Park in secured, well-lighted areas, or in a garage, if possible
- Avoid GPS holders with suction cups. Even if the device isn't visible, the ring the devices leave on the window often signals to thieves that a GPS device is hidden inside. The same goes for a visible iPod cord or a cell phone charger.