Tips On Keeping Your Cars Safe From Thieves

By Matt Carroll, Vice President
Paladin Private Security

North Sacramento’s connectedness continues to thwart crime on a daily basis as evidenced by both the success stories shared in Capt. Hahn’s updates, as well as in the hard numbers that show improvement in most crime categories.

That said, however, we have seen a recent spike in North Natomas auto burglaries and auto thefts in recent weeks. Sacramento has long been a top-10 city for auto theft, but has also consistently ranked amongst the best in recovery rates.

Many in the community have recently asked Paladin for advice on how to best protect their vehicles. Just as a fire needs oxygen, fuel and heat to exist, property crimes such as auto theft and auto burglary have necessary ingredients of their own: Intent, Means and Opportunity.

While we have no control over a criminal’s intent to commit an act, nor their experience and tools of the trade (means), we do and always will have some say as to the degree of opportunity we present them.

Some communities, such as Natomas Park, maintain community regulations aimed at opportunity prevention. Most notably, they prohibit street parking. Not only does this keep the community looking nicer (which is a deterrent in and of itself), but it places the onus on the suspect to actually enter a private property parcel to commit their crime. It forces the suspect to come within range of household lighting, motion sensors, camera systems, potentially present alarms, potentially present noisy dogs and of course line of sight of the homeowner. This changing of the playing field has been directly responsible for the successful capture of many burglars over the past year.

While we’d all like to believe in crime prevention, the best we can usually hope to accomplish is crime displacement. While keeping vehicles in the garages designed for them is the ideal scenario, its not a piece of advice many will follow despite the proven benefits. With respect to auto burglary, the same advice we’ve all heard many times before remains the best defense – keep all items out of view. When we say all items, we mean all items. Never suspect that your perception of value is identical to that of the criminal. While you may know there is nothing of value in that backpack on the floorboard, the criminal will knock out your window just out of curiosity.

So, let’s say you’re the model car owner. You religiously adhere to a vehicle security procedure. When you arrive home and park in your driveway you remove the list of items we know to attract burglars: your cell phone charger, your stereo faceplate and your GPS mount. You open your glove box and let it hang open, you pull open your ash tray and you lift the center console lid – all strategic maneuvers to explicitly demonstrate that there is absolutely nothing in your vehicle worth taking. To be thorough, you grab a handy-wipe and scrub the ring off of your windshield that shows the presence of a GPS unit in your vehicle. Your vehicle looks invincible. Finally, before heading indoors for the evening, you test fire your outside lights and check the sensitivity of your motion sensor lighting. You head indoors, confident you’re protected.

You’re probably well protected with all of these actions taken. However, if you live on a street where you are the only person behaving this way, not only will all of your neighbors think you’re a bit strange, but your level of protection will have dwindled as well. While you’ve certainly done your part to deter crime in your community, your neighbors are continuing to serve as a bright beacon for the burglars, inviting them to take a gander at what your street has to offer. Keep in mind, auto burglary can lead to additional Means (garage openers, spare house keys) for other crimes. Now we’ve given them 2 of the 3 ingredients for their next act – a home burglary.

With our primary market in the multifamily housing arena, we find great irony that while these folks live literally on top of one another, they are highly disconnected and severely lack the sense of community that we find in the single family home communities in North Natomas. With apartment parking lots serving as a target rich environment, Paladin officers routinely “paper the cars” with notices. Our staff will put on a burglar mindset and peer into vehicles throughout the property. Any vehicle with an item in view receives a notice which politely and indirectly blames them for creating crime in the community. What is interesting is that we often receive a complaint calls asking “Where was security? My car was burglarized!” In many cases, when we run the plate they give us, we find one or more reports in our system showing our staff had issued that very vehicle a warning notice, essentially telling them this was going to happen.

We’re creatures of habit, and even though we know the risks, we find it hard to change our behavior. Equally, however, people are also followers. We like to “fit in” with the herd. This characteristic can be turned to our advantage in ways to combat crime. Do you want to be the only person on your street parked on the street? Without exterior lighting? Point being, until the community as a whole adopts a crime displacement attitude, then commits to these beliefs through demonstrable actions, the burglars and car thieves will continue to be successful and in your neighborhood.

With many neighborhood watch groups operating in North Natomas, many have asked us what they should do now that they exist. What function can they serve aside from noble participation in E-mail groups and serving as good reporters of suspicious activity? Papering cars is one idea. Taking note of homes without lighting and generating a letter from your neighborhood group to the homeowners who are creating opportunity is a start. Advertise CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) strategies throughout your community: maintain “natural surveillance” in your community by preventing bushes over 3 feet high, tree canopies hanging below 8 feet. Ideally, you should be able to see across your street, down your street and up your street without obstructed view. Work with homeowners to make this happen – the resulting open environment improves safety, witness potential, throw of lighting and has a great psychological impact on the would-be offender. Consider hostile vegetation and noisy ground cover outside windows of the home. These are just several means of opportunity reduction – our collective responsibility as a community and our mission if we hope to reduce or altogether relocate crime.

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