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First things first what is an entering auto? This crime takes place when someone enters your vehicle with the intent to steal something within. To be a victim of this crime, your auto doesnt have to suffer damage from forced entry; some entering auto thieves get lucky simply because a person forgot to lock their door (and I say forget because I know you would never intentionally leave your car unlocked, right??) We call these guys the handle flippers because they simply walk through the neighborhood or shopping center and lift door handles to see whose vehicle has been left unlocked.
As stated in my opener, weve had more than our share of entering autos this summer. In addition to neighborhoods, local parks and shopping centers, weve seen a notable uptick in these crimes at some of our local hotels.
Closer to home, many of our fine citizens have a false sense of security regarding their vehicles once they arrive home. Its as if their driveway is encased in a safety bubble where nothing bad will happen so they dont think twice about leaving their doors unlocked. This mentality is why so many of the overnight entering autos we see in driveways have no damage to the auto. The crime still occurred; you just gave them an invitation by leaving your door unlocked.
How do the bad guys get into your vehicle? Some still use the oldest method in the book smashing out the window. Yes, its loud and messy, but its quick. A similar method, but quieter and less messy, is to just pry out the whole window. It takes a little more time, but it wont activate most car alarms because once the window is removed, the perp just reaches in to steal your stuff; no need to open the door. Then theres the method of using a tool to punch the door lock or pry the door handle. This takes mere seconds and the pros are so smooth it can appear to one watching several feet away that they are simply opening the door with a key.
Entering autos take place any time of day. You may recall my mention of the trend we had several months ago at our daycares. As you can easily imagine, the prime time for daycare entering autos was limited to two specific time windows: in the morning when parents were dropping off their children, and at rush hour when parents were picking up their kids. These victims commonly thought, Oh, Ill just be in there a couple of minutes so they left their purse or laptop bag in the vehicle in plain view. Bad idea. In less than two minutes (actually, less than one minute), the bad guy swooped in, smashed the window, grabbed the waiting loot and fled. Fortunately, after months of work, the detectives of CIU2 did catch a man who had committed dozens of these crimes.
The reality is, however, that if you are a victim of an entering auto, it is likely you will never see your stolen items again. Even if the detectives are clever or lucky enough to actually make an arrest, oftentimes this apprehension comes days or weeks after the crime and the stolen goods have long been sold or traded on the street.
Have you ever heard anyone comment about someone you knew that they live out of their car? I dont mean they are homeless, but some people use their vehicle as an extension of their house and keep all kinds of valuables in their conveyance. Not a good plan. You name it and weve logged it on a property sheet in entering auto cases: laptops, guns, checkbooks, medicine, phones, clothes, wedding rings, iPods and iPads, this months rent, power tools, cameras, a second set of car keys, credit cards and social security cards. I must say, I never understood why anyone would leave a social security card in their glove box or wallet, but people do this all the time — and dont even get me started on identity theft; that is a whole different topic for another PENS report.
And speaking of specific property, dont forget your serial numbers! Yep, Ive said it before and Ill say it till my face is the color of my old uniform shirt — because its that important. If you dont log your serial numbers, dont expect to ever get your stolen items returned to you. This is because, absent your serial number(s), we have no way of knowing if the property we recover is really yours. Heres an example…Lets say a beat officer makes a traffic stop and he or she notices a couple of flat screen televisions in the back seat of the drivers car. In questioning the driver, he says the TVs are not his and has no reasonable explanation of how the TVs got in his car. Now, you and I know this is suspicious. If the officer checks the serial numbers of the TVs on the national database and doesnt get a hit, i.e., the item isnt listed as stolen, then we cant tie the items to the original owner.
Before I became a police officer, I was the victim of two different entering autos. In both instances, I made the mistake of leaving something in plain view that was attractive to a thief. It can happen to anyone. So, not to insult your intelligence, but please allow me to remind you of the basic rules of doing your part to help thwart those entering auto perpetrators.
- Park in well lit areas
- Take note of the people around you as you exit your vehicle. Are they watching you? Do they not fit in given the type of business/ locale (a man dressed in a suit at a jogging trail or three guys in a car at a daycare center?) If you see someone/something that is out of place, call 911. Trust your gut; its usually right.
- Lock your vehicle
- Dont leave valuables in your auto
Lastly, here are some observations Ive noted over the years:
- Entering auto perps like pickup trucks because they know the men who drive pick-ups are often the kind of persons who have a gun in the vehicle.
- The bad guys who commit entering autos in parking lots tend to back in next to (or very close to) their targeted victims. This makes for a quick escape.
- It is not uncommon for the entering auto thief to drive a stolen or rented car.
- Workout facilities and amusement parks are rich targets because the thieves know its not feasible to carry your purse with you into these types of venues.
If your credit card is stolen, the first place the thief will often use it is at a gas station and theyll go to a pump where the stores cameras dont reach.
Lieutenant Carole King
Precinct II Criminal Investigations Unit Commander