Crime & Courts

Locking car doors may save you from Charlotte’s most prevalent crime

Last year, nearly one out of every four crimes in Charlotte was a theft from a vehicle. There were more thefts from autos than all violent crimes combined.
Last year, nearly one out of every four crimes in Charlotte was a theft from a vehicle. There were more thefts from autos than all violent crimes combined. The Charlotte Observer

Pop quiz: When you got out of your car today, did you lock the doors?

If you’re not sure, going back to check might not be such a bad idea.

In a few days, police are going to release crime statistics for the first half of this year. But the crime that’s reported the most – thefts from autos – is the one that’s talked about the least.

Last year, nearly one out of every four crimes was a theft from a vehicle. There were more thefts from autos than all violent crimes combined. Through the first three months of 2015, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police investigated 1,678 thefts from cars. That’s a 4 percent bump from the year before.

It’s easy to see why empty cars are such an attractive target to criminals. How many minutes a day do you spend watching your car, making sure no one’s swiping something from it? And for years, police gave thefts from autos second-class status, taking reports of the crime over the phone and not sending investigators out to collect evidence or dust for fingerprints. Former Chief Rodney Monroe changed the policy when he took over in 2009.

Crimes that cause physical harm to people – like murders, rapes and assaults – tend to grab headlines, but over the years, I’ve heard my share of theft-from-auto stories.

Nate King, a lieutenant in the South Division, said he’s interviewed heroin addicts who go through the parking lots of grocery stores “like locusts” checking car door handles.

Officers in the University City Division told me experienced thieves can break a window and make off with property in less time than it took to read this sentence.

Some rings don’t just seek out easy-to-pawn electronics, they look for credit cards, checkbooks and bills – anything with financial information that can be used to commit crimes in the future.

Sometimes hiding your belongings isn’t enough. Police say savvy criminals look for tell-tale signs that electronics might be hidden inside a car – a ring on the windshield from the suction cup of a GPS device, an iPhone cord sticking out from a cigarette lighter or a messenger bag on the floor.

Still, it’s not hard to turn your car into a less likely target. Most thieves are looking to get into your car, grab items, then get away quickly, which works to your advantage:

▪ Lock your car doors and roll your windows all the way up.

▪ Don’t leave anything valuable visible. Tempting items include small electronics, a purse or computer bag.

▪ Park in secure, well-lighted areas, or in a garage, if possible.

▪ Avoid GPS or phone holders with suction cups. 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. 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.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046, @CleveWootson

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