October is National Crime Prevention Month, and I have one simple message for you that could dramatically reduce the amount of crime in Pinellas County, and the number of illegal firearms in the hands of criminals: lock your car doors. If you follow us on social media or listen to our podcast you know that this is one of the main messages we consistently try to drive home. It is such a simple thing to do, and yet one of the most common crimes today is vehicle burglary of unlocked vehicles.
If you’re lucky, a burglary of your unlocked vehicle might only net the bad guy a handful of quarters and your spare sunglasses. But all too often people leave valuables in their vehicles overnight. You’d be surprised at the things people leave in their unlocked vehicles: wallets, house keys, cash. If your vehicle is unlocked, a criminal may have access to your garage door opener which could let them steal your bikes, tools, or even enter your home.
Many people carry a firearm for personal protection, either on their person or in their vehicle. If you do so, never leave your firearm in your vehicle. Whether it is locked or unlocked, the risk of letting one more firearm out on the street is just too high. Do you want your gun to be used in the commission of a crime, or even turned on you or your family? You need to always secure your firearms – and your vehicle is not secure.
Some worry that if they lock their vehicle, it will just force the burglar to break the window to gain entry. This may sometimes happen but remember that most criminals prefer low-hanging fruit. The usual method for vehicle burglaries is for several youths to drive through a neighborhood, often in a stolen car, and hit as many houses as possible in a short period of time. They’ll move from house to house, checking car doors and taking whatever they can as quickly as they can before moving on to a new neighborhood. If you leave a spare key or if they have other means of starting the car, they might steal your vehicle too. Locking your car door isn’t a guarantee that you won’t be a victim, but it does make it much more likely that the criminal will move on to an easier target. If you don’t leave valuables, purses, or bags in plain sight, there will be nothing to tempt them.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has many methods to combat the explosion of auto burglaries. At the forefront is an information campaign like this one, in print and on social media, to remind people of best practices. You may even find a flyer inside your car someday advising you to keep your doors locked. Sometimes in areas that are targets of repeat burglaries our deputies will check your car door as a public service. You may be shocked to find that someone could access your vehicle, but just be glad it was a deputy and not a bad guy.
When we get a report of vehicle burglaries we can respond with deputies, a K-9 to track the suspect, and even our helicopter that can see the heat signature of a person even on the darkest night. We also have the Habitual Offender Monitoring Unit (HOME) with detectives dedicated to keeping tabs on youth with extensive criminal records, most of which involve auto burglaries and auto theft. We’re doing everything we can to reduce crime, but you need to do your part too. During National Crime Prevention Month and throughout the year, think about the simple things you can do to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
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