University City

National Night Out reminds neighbors in University City area to be vigilant

It’s an event that reminds neighbors to look out for one another, and police say it can help decrease crime in their communities.

National Night Out, touted as “America’s Night Out Against Crime,” saw its first event in 1984. It has since become an annual way for neighborhoods to work with police and each other against local crime.

As neighborhoods all over Charlotte host National Night Out events on Aug. 6 and throughout this week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said awareness and familiarity can help with the crimes they see most often.

In the University, North Tryon and Hickory Grove divisions, CMPD leaders said residential and auto break-ins are the most common types of property crimes they see.

While the type of offense typically differs within each division’s three response areas – ranging from stolen license plates to items being sold to scrap yards – police said residents can do a number of things to protect their property.

“The best prevention of all is knowing your neighbor,” said Lt. Travis Childs of the Hickory Grove Division.

“If you see someone coming to and from your neighbor’s house, and you know they don’t belong there. … It would help us out a lot more if people would pick up the phone and just call us,” he said.

“We would rather go to a 911 call and it be nothing, than miss a call where we could have prevented (a crime).”

Childs said National Night Out is a great chance for neighbors to get to know one another. That, in turn, can lead to knowing neighborhood routines and when something is out of place.

“It helps to introduce yourself; familiarize yourself with their vehicles. Once you get to know each other, you can let each other know when you’ll be out of town.”

Officer Mike Doan, with North Tryon Division’s Response Area 2, said that as of July 29, they had 23 incidents of larceny from vehicles reported during the preceding two weeks. He said all divisions encourage residents to be more mindful about locking their vehicle doors, keeping valuables – like GPS navigators – out of sight, and taking any bags inside with them.

“The thieves don’t know any better. They see a bag and think there (are) valuables inside,” Doan said.

“They’ll smash windows, grab the bag and a lot of times there’s nothing in it.”

Doan also encouraged residents to call about any suspicious activity.

“The chance of police catching suspects in the act is very hard. These thieves, they’re out looking for opportunity and looking for police. They’ll see us a mile away before we see them. They blend in with the public. It’s very challenging for us.”

Lt. Dave Johnson of the University Division said since July 1, 86 car break-ins and 49 residential break-ins have been reported.

“Consistently, year after year, those are our top two crimes in sheer numbers,” he said.

Johnson said many residents hesitate to call because they’re afraid of wasting police time on what they think could be nothing.

“Look out for each other. If you see something suspicious, it usually is,” he said.

“Eight times out of 10 when we catch someone, it’s because they called 911 and got us there in a timely matter,” Johnson said.

CMPD recommendations

Always lock your vehicle: Even if it’s in your driveway or you’re stepping away for only 10-30 seconds. Doan said the maintenance man at an apartment complex left his truck unlocked for less than 60 seconds while he got out to pick up tools. In that time, someone took his wallet and phone from the vehicle.

“Those are the things thieves are hopping on: Crimes of opportunity. They see it and go after it,” Doan said.

Take an inventory: Officers recommend taking the time to record the serial numbers of large items and electronic purchases, whether it’s a TV or GPS device. The serial number can often be found on the UPC label of the box, which can be torn off and filed. Or, they suggest, take a picture with a camera phone and store it.

“If they get burglarized, (serial numbers) help the police department to track stolen items,” said Doan. “We get hundreds of pieces of property through the pawn system. The serial number is crucial.”

Home base: Childs said a primary tactic in residential robberies involves perpetrators going door to door.

“They’re basically looking to see if you’re home. If you’re not, they may try (to break in),” he said.

Keeping blinds closed so valuables aren’t in plain sight is a good idea, as are leaving the television on and putting lights on timers.

Johnson also recommended that those who have alarm systems actually use them. While it may not help police catch the suspect, alarms can help limit homeowner losses by scaring off the burglar before they can take many things of value, he said.

“Anything to make your house a harder target,” Johnson said, adding that any CMPD division can provide a security survey to help identify weak spots in home security.