They search for opportunity. Shining flashlights through the windows to the back seat, thieves scavenge cars for purses, electronics or simply an unlocked door. Vehicle owners might return in the morning to find personal items missing and rifled-through glove boxes.
These are cases Longmont and Boulder police officers see over and over again. For years, both agencies have long been advising people to lock their car doors and remove valuable items from sight.
Longmont police Deputy Chief Jeff Satur said authorities respond to between five and 10 car break-ins a week on average. While some might suspect thieves take a break during cold winter months, Satur said thefts from vehicles still prevail. Of the cases police investigate, between 85% to 90% involve cars that are unlocked.
Boulder Police Department spokesperson Dean Cunningham said on average 11 car trespasses are reported each week in Boulder. As of Thursday, Cunnigham said there had been 494 cases for the year. He said he was not sure how many of those stemmed from unlocked cars.
People who hear the advisory to lock their doors may lament that if they do so, a thief might chose instead to break a window. However, Satur said it is “uncommon” to smash through glass, unless there’s something valuable in plain sight.
“People don’t usually break a window to rifle a glove box,” Satur said. “It’s unfortunate. We have people that go out with the specific intent to steal things from cars. It is also very hard to catch those guys, too. They do it in the cover of darkness.”
In the 30 years Satur has been with the Longmont Police Department, he said authorities have long worked to spread the message that locking car doors is the best way to reduce the chances of theft, citing newspaper campaigns and even a police video created for the purpose.
While the message is not new, Satur said it is particularly timely as people rush from store to store this month to purchase holiday gifts for their loved ones. Keeping those shopping bags in the trunk and out of plain sight is a good way to make sure the presents make it under the tree, he said.
Cunningham added that parking in an area where there are lots of people around also may be a good way to discourage thieves.
It isn’t just money and electronics that are swiped from unattended vehicles.
“We’ve had firearms stolen from unlocked cars,” Satur said. “We’ve had computers and purses (stolen). People will leave the garage door opener in there, so they will take the garage door opener and pop the garage. Sometimes they will go through the glove box and take insurance and registration information.”
While there’s a chance of tracing a suspect to a stolen credit card, other items might be harder to recover. Satur said a Longmont police detective combs local pawn shops in search of items taken from cars.
In addition to locking their car doors, Satur encouraged people to sign up for Neighborhood Surveillance Camera Registration. This allows residents to give law enforcement permission to view their security camera footage if a crime occurs in their neighborhood.
Like Satur, Cunningham encouraged people to take simple steps to protect their belongings.
“Preventing car trespasses starts before you leave your car,” Cunningham said. “Car trespass is a crime of opportunity. If someone looks in car and see something they want, the chances of being a victim go way up. If the items are out of sight, the probability goes down.”