Wednesday, Jul 02 2014 04:00 PM

Public Safety Talk: You have to think like a criminal to fight crime

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Teri Cryer of Tehachapi Police Department.

Almost all crimes in Tehachapi, as well as other cities, are “crimes of opportunity.” As examples, leaving something in your yard that mysteriously grows legs and walks away or leaving something visible in your car with your doors locked or unlocked (and finding it missing the next day).

According to Nationwide Insurance, each year approximately $1.26 billion (that’s right billion — not million) in personal items are stolen from vehicles. That’s an average of about $681 per theft, and these are the statistics from what’s being reported. A lot of the smaller thefts go unreported.

It’s a sad fact that methamphetamine is a huge contributor to our crime rates here in Tehachapi. A disturbing statistic for Kern County is that 39 percent of all crime is related to meth. Another reported statistic is that one third of all hospital visits in Kern County are meth related.

Bearing in mind that a single use of meth costs $10, do you think it would be worth it to a meth addict who is in need of the drug to “open” your car door and take what is sitting right in the open and then try to quickly sell it for some fast cash? Or worse, they might open your glove box, look at your registration, and get your home address from it. Then they drive to your home, open your garage door with the garage door opener you’ve provided them and load up your vehicle with the contents of your garage and quite possibly from the contents of your home.

Something to note: If you leave your vehicle door unlocked and a theft occurs, the culprit will only be charged with a simple theft, versus a locked vehicle door where a theft occurs, in such a case they will be charged with a burglary which carries a much stiffer sentence.

The best way to combat crime is to think like a criminal!

The following visible items make your vehicle a target for crime: unlocked door, open window, open sunroof, keys, purse, wallet, briefcase or bag, cash or change, cell phone or cell phone cord, CDs, iPod, laptop, GPS system, mail or documents with ID and address, garage door opener, and other valuables such as jewelry, clothes, shoes, sunglasses or tools.

About those unlocked doors and open windows or sunroof — almost a quarter of thefts happen from unlocked vehicles. Cars should always be locked and secured. Allowing access to the interior of your car exposes you to a possible auto theft, loss of property, and/or having your car stolen.

Keys visible or in ignition: Not only could your car be stolen, but frequently there are other keys on your key ring as well (work, house, etc). Leaving your keys out, compromises those places as well.

Purse/wallet/briefcase/bag: These items are primary targets for thieves, because they contain valuables such as credit cards, ID, driver’s licenses, house keys and money. All are things that a dishonest person can use to commit further crimes like forgeries, I.D. thefts, frauds, etc.

Cash/change: If these items are on display in your vehicle, they are sure to be stolen. Believe it or not, a desperate thief will not think twice about smashing your $500+ window in order to obtain your $2 in change!  

Cell phone/cell phone charger: Cell phones are easy targets. Before you discover your “lost” phone was stolen, they may have run up large long distance bills. Additionally, many people store personal information inside their phones (friend’s names, addresses, phone numbers, etc).

CD’s/iPod/laptop computers/GPS system: Did you know that some businesses, such as pawn shops, pay cash for used CDs and portable electronic equipment? If you have a laptop computer or GPS system, get it out of sight and secure it. Most GPS systems have programmed into them the owner’s “home” address. You may want to think twice about programming your home address in.

Mail/documents with ID and addresses: Would you tell an unknown person your name and where you lived? Of course not! When you leave these things visible in your vehicle, you provide the thief with invaluable information that could be used for a variety of criminal acts including ID theft.

Garage door opener: Your garage door opener is the “key” to the storage area of some of your most valuable assets, including vehicles. If you have poor locks, or you do not lock the door leading to the interior of your home, it is also the “key” to your house, and believe me the criminals know it! Besides, once they’re in your garage and lower the door behind them, they now have the time to break through that door without anyone seeing them. Keep garage door openers concealed in your console, glove box or in another clever hiding place.

Other valuables: That old stinky gym bag or empty tool bag may not be considered “valuable,” but the thief doesn’t know that! They will break into your car, steal the bag, and throw it away once they discover it is valueless. Your net loss — a $15 bag, and most likely more than $500 in damages (breaking into your car).

The key word here is “visible.” The more items you leave visible in your car, the more tempting they become to a potential car burglar. The burglar wants what is quick and easy, and what they can see!  

Be vigilant. Be aware of what people are doing around you. Be another set of eyes and ears for the police. If something seems suspicious, always call!

TERI CRYER is the Tehachapi Police Department's community resource for education on crime prevention, neighborhood watch programs, community outreach programs and much more.

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