Police encourage prevention to stop vehicle break-ins

March 30, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Greg Farrar

Global Positioning System computers, including units like this that attach to windshields with suction cup mounts, are the most frequently stolen items in Issaquah’s recent vehicle prowls.

Thieves snatch GPS units, MP3 players and even mail almost every day from locked vehicles parked around Issaquah. 

Items left on a dashboard or car seat are easy targets for thieves, police said. Many of the incidents, described by officers as vehicle prowls, are preventable.

Patrol Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum said a vehicle prowl is “a crime of opportunity.” The most frequently stolen items are GPS units. During the first 12 weeks of 2009, 15 GPS units were stolen from vehicles during prowls, according to police statistics.Often mounted to a windshield or dashboard, the devices are easy for thieves to spot. They smash a window or pick a lock, and then grab the item and flee. Officials said iPods and other MP3 players are popular targets, too. Criminals also seek mail, which can contain financial and personal information.

Police Chief Paul Ayers said the potential for identity theft exists when criminals gain access to the sensitive information. The same risks crop up when a purse, wallet or briefcase is stolen.

Stopping vehicle break-ins is easy; motorists should avoid storing valuables in their vehicles, Behrbaum said. In cases where valuables are kept in vehicles, he said drivers should secure them inside the trunk. A glove compartment may not have a sufficient lock. Criminals will often bypass vehicles with no valuables in sight.

“If you’ve got stuff sitting on your seats, it’s easy,” Behrbaum said. 

He said many stolen GPS units and MP3 players are used by the criminals rather than resold. He said criminals adapt as tastes change. 

“Ten years ago, people stole stereos,” he said. 

Now, stereo thefts are rare.

In addition to checking pawnshops for stolen items, officers monitor sites like craigslist and eBay. Behrbaum said stolen items are occasionally recovered and returned to their owners.

During the 2008 holiday season, officers placed cards on vehicles with shopping bags and other valuables in plain sight. Behrbaum said the notices helped raise awareness about vehicle break-ins.

Officials encouraged motorists to take extra precautions if they plan to leave their vehicles parked in a single location for a long period, such as trailheads or commuter lots.

Criminals targeted vehicles at the Issaquah Transit Center, 1050 17th Ave., throughout March. A thief broke a window on a Toyota 4Runner and stole a GPS unit from the sport utility vehicle March 9. The same day, someone broke a window on a Volkswagen Passat parked at the transit center. A Toyota pickup was stolen from there March 10. Another vehicle was damaged there March 17, and the thief stole a GPS unit from it. 

Cmdr. Stan Conrad, the department’s support services commander, said 911 dispatchers at the police department monitor cameras located throughout the park & ride facility. Alarms positioned throughout the center also alert 911 dispatchers.

Behrbaum encouraged commuters to call police if they see someone loitering near vehicles. If people see someone breaking into a vehicle, they should call 911. Otherwise, they can report suspicious activity to the department’s business line, 837-3200.

“We would prefer to go and check it out and find out if it’s nothing than go out later for 10 car prowls,” Ayers said. 

Prevent a vehicle break-in

Do not keep valuables in vehicles.

If valuables are kept in vehicles, secure the items in the trunk.

Secure items before arriving at your destination. Criminals often lurk in parking lots watching for easy targets.

Record serial numbers of electronics. This can make them easier to track if they’re stolen.

Source: Patrol Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum, Issaquah Police Department

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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