Friday, January 29, 2010

"Lock, Take, Hide" Reconsidered

Lock, Take, Hide

One of our east Richardson neighbors parked his car overnight in his rear-facing driveway recently and found it in the morning jacked up with one wheel stolen. The Richardson police officers who responded to the call indicated that three other vehicles in the area were similarly vandalized with all four wheels stolen from each. They assume that the thieves involved may have been interrupted since they took only one of the wheels from our neighbor.

The Richardson Police Department publishes a "Crime Prevention Handbook" with tips to reduce auto theft and auto burglary.

  1. Never leave your vehicle running while unattended.
  2. Always lock your car and completely close your car windows when parking.
  3. Do not leave your keys inside your car.
  4. Always park in a well-lighted area.
  5. Keep all valuables out of sight.
  6. Use auto theft deterrents.
  7. Park in your garage.
  8. Don't leave the registration or title in your car.
  9. Etch VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on windows and major parts.
  10. Drop business cards or other ID inside vehicle doors.

This is all good advice, I'm sure, but curious that I am, I'd like to see more supporting statistics for some of the items.

After the jump, my own thinking on the subject.

One of the tips I'd like to see supporting statistics for is tip #2, "lock your car." If someone wants to steal your entertainment system, GPS, radar detector, whatever, from your car parked in your driveway overnight, a locked car is probably not going to stop them. The thief will smash a window to get to the goods and you'll end up with a burglarized *and* vandalized car. On the other hand, if it's the car itself the thief wants, he's probably more inclined to steal one that he doesn't have to damage first, so he'll target the car with the unlocked doors. So, by leaving your car unlocked, are you less likely to find a smashed window but more likely to lose your whole car? Are smashed windows common enough to make a financial case for leaving your doors unlocked? Probably not, but I'd like to see the numbers anyway.

And how about tip #4, "park in a well-lighted area?" I've long thought that it's safer to park on the street than in a dark, rear-facing alley lined by privacy fences. This is especially true if there's a street light nearby. On the other hand, I've heard others suggest that random, impulsive car vandalism might be more common on the street and therefore it's a better bet to park your car in a back driveway. Again, I'd like to see the numbers.

Some people install motion-activated floodlights in their driveways as a theft-deterrent. My driveway is hidden from neighbors by privacy fences, so a floodlight (which I have) might just make a car burglar's job easier. Are there any statistics that show whether burglars are attracted by or deterred by motion-activated floodlights in such cases? I'd like some data supporting my decision to light up a burglar's work.

Tip #8 (don't leave the registration in your car) has always been a puzzle for me. Just what piece of paper is meant by "registration?" I register my car every year and I receive in return a sticker to put in my front car window. That sticker is peeled off a receipt. Is that receipt what is meant by registration? I've never known. The handbook suggests you should carry your registration in your purse or wallet. What if you have multiple drivers? How can each driver carry the car's registration? I guess I could get answers by speeding, driving recklessly, running stop signs, etc., until one of Richardson's finest pulls me over and asks for license and registration. He ought to know what he's asking for and then he can tell me.

Tip #10 (drop business cards inside vehicle doors) isn't a theft deterrent as much as a way to help police identify and retrieve your car after it's stolen. I wonder just how realistic this advice is. Do police ever take doors apart looking for such evidence of ownership? Statistics, please. On the other hand, it's easy to do and it can't hurt, so why not do it? I'll do it myself today.

That leaves only tip #9 (etch VIN on windows and major parts) as something that I don't do. Laziness, I guess, although again I'd like to see statistics for how effective such efforts are. If VIN etching *is* effective, why don't auto manufacturers etch VIN numbers on every major part of every car that rolls off the assembly line? In any case, the Richardson Police Department occasionally sponsors a free VIN etching service in partnership with others (thanks, Target). Be on the lookout for future offerings and take advantage. Make it a 2010 resolution to do so this year.

One last point. Tip #7 (park in your garage) has to be the most effective anti-crime tip of all, by far, not even close. Come on, folks, use your garages for what they were designed for, parking cars, and rent a storage unit to hold all the stuff you don't have use for inside your house anymore. Better yet, take that stuff to Goodwill or recycle it through a service like "Sharing is Giving". You'll do someone else a big favor and protect your car from theft or vandalism at the same time. Win-win.

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