Vehicle break-ins tend to be crimes of opportunity, but there are steps people can take to make it harder for would-be thieves.
“Usually, the thieves don’t wake up that morning saying, ‘I’m going to break into six cars today’,” said North Augusta Public Safety Lt. Tim Thornton.
However, when valuable items are left in plain sight in a car, it presents thieves with an opportunity, he said.
“Someone’s walking through a parking lot and sees a window down,” he said in giving an example.
“They look in the car as they are passing by and see a pocketbook sitting on the front seat. They see something of value just inside their reach in the window. They reach in, they grab it and they keep moving. It’s very quick, very discreet and not a whole lot of attention drawn to themselves. That’s a crime of opportunity.”
There are also those who will go to greater lengths to get to an item they see in a car, he added.
“There are also situations where even if you lock your car and the windows are up, they’re still breaking into windows, snatching what they see and taking off. Like a fence around a property, it’s only going to keep the law-abiding citizens out,” he said.
Some of the common items taken in break-ins are purses, GPS units, wallets, digital cameras, iPods and cash, he said.
“Even if it’s a dollar bill laying in the console, that’s enough to stop somebody walking by,” he said. “It plants a seed in the perpetrator’s mind, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I do this?’ ”
While it’s a crime that can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time, there are precautions people can take to minimize the temptation.
“Our number one piece of advice we give to the public is to secure all your valuables out of sight. Lock them up in the trunk. Bring them in at night,” he said.
“If you leave your valuables in plain view, you’re asking for trouble. The odds of you becoming a victim of a car break-in dramatically increase.”
If someone is a victim of a vehicle break-in, they should immediately contact law enforcement, said Thornton.
“Sometimes, these victims may not be aware something is stolen for a while. The car is left unlocked and they don’t realize that their iPod or GPS is gone until they go to look for it,” he said. “In that particular case, you still need to report it if you want a follow-up investigation to it.”
The police also take precautions of their own, such as increasing patrols in areas of break-ins, using undercover officers, using planted cars and doing follow-ups on citizen tips. They also heavily depend on surveillance cameras, Thornton said.
However, the best first line of defense is ensuring that valuables aren’t left in plain sight, no matter how short the time period may seem, he said.
“This can happen as quick as being inside a quick shop,” he said.
“It doesn’t necessarily happen in your driveway overnight or in a parking lot that’s crowded with cars and pedestrians. This can happen as quick as running inside.”