A recent examination of local car break-ins leads to one clear conclusion: A few common-sense steps taken by car owners are the best way to avoid being a victim.
Vehicle break-ins surged during the last five months of 2007. From August to December, car break-ins went up 55 percent compared with the same period during the previous year. The worst month was October, when break-ins jumped from 53 in 2006 to 104 in 2007.
But despite a careful review of the statistics, no clear pattern emerged. While break-ins may have surged during the latter part of the year, the number of break-ins overall dropped slightly from 815 in 2006 to 805 in 2007.
The one constant seemed to be that car break-ins are a crime of opportunity. If owners park their cars in dimly lighted, low-traffic areas, unlocked with a laptop computer in plain view on the front seat, they are practically begging to become victims.
Rock Hill police worked to step up patrols last year, especially when break-ins were increasing. But the police can't be everywhere at once.
One good example? Four police cars were among those broken into last year.
Furthermore, police note that items stolen from parked cars are rarely recovered, and those who break into cars are rarely caught and prosecuted for the crime. Owners may go to the trouble to etch identifying numbers on expensive computers or other large items, but not on goods such as digital cameras, portable music players or CD collections, making those items hard to trace.
So, how do car owners reduce the risk of a break-in? Law enforcement officials offer a few tips, most of them obvious. Most importantly, keep items of value out of plain sight. Instead, put them in compartments, in the trunk, under a seat or, best of all, take them inside with you.
Lock car doors; park in well-lighted areas; and, if staying at a hotel, take the car's contents inside.
Again, this is a crime of opportunity. Burglars are less likely to break the window of your car if nothing of value is easily visible. There will always be another car that is easier to break into down the street.
We hope the year-end trend toward increasing break-ins does not continue into the new year. If it does, police might have to consider more stakeouts in high-crime areas.
But even with more enforcement, the person most capable of reducing the risk is the person operating the car.
Car owners need to take responsibility for discouraging break-ins by using common sense.
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