I received a regular e-mail from the Newtown Township Police this week, reporting on the latest rash of thefts from parked cars in the township. I imagine this is happening everywhere these days. We are in difficult economic times, and it drives people to do things they perhaps would not do in better times.
Stealing from unlocked cars, late at night when no one is watching, is one of the easier crimes to commit: open the door, take what is freely available, close the door, and leave the area. Of course, then, the thief has to sell the items to turn them into money. But he no longer has to find a willing and complicit “fence” to buy the stolen goods. With Craigslist and eBay, it is easy to find a willing, and entirely innocent, buyer willing to pay for a used iPod or other electronics harvested from an unlocked car.
It is a difficult crime to solve–it happens quickly, and typically with no witnesses. However, this amateur theft is not that difficult to prevent: all you need to do is lock your car doors. Every theft reported by Newtown Police has involved an unlocked car. Most, and perhaps all of them, could have been prevented by the owner locking the car door.
The crime is one of opportunity–the thief either sees the item in plain view, or tries the car door and if it opens, then he can quickly search the glove box and center console and take items of value left there. If he tries your door and it is locked, then he will move on to the next car.
While the crime of breaking into a locked car to steal contents is not physically that difficult to do, it typically involves smashing a window, which creates noise, draws attention, and adds a separate crime to the theft, which multiplies the criminal charges, can involve a felony and jail time, and so multiplies the penalties and risks for the thief.
Your garden variety thief generally won’t take the crime to this level. He may be a thief, but he can still do a cost-benefit analysis–and for most, stealing a used iPod is usually not worth going to jail. However, Newtown and surrounding townships have also reported a rise in break-ins of cars at local stores and fitness facilities. You can reduce your chances of being one of those victims by leaving nothing of value in your parked car.
If you are aware that this crime is occurring more, then you can take action to protect yourself, and also spread the news to your friends and neighbors. Newtown Township has jumped into the 21st century, with both a mailing list and a website with helpful information on both police news and crime alerts. For instance, the following thefts from cars were reported recently in Newtown:
“On Monday 10-31-2011, the police department received four complaints of thefts from vehicles in the Springton Pointe neighborhood and Larchmont neighborhood. The thefts occurred over night Sunday 10-30-11 to Monday 10-31-11. In total, seven cars had been entered and ransacked. All cars had their glove compartments and center consoles searched. Two of the victims reported missing purses, store/gift cards, cash, and keys. here were portable GPS units left undisturbed in some of the cars. The actor(s) knew what they were doing leaving the GPS units behind because they are easy to trace back to the victim. The common denominator with all of these reports is that the cars were left unlocked overnight. In the area of the reported thefts, no cars that were locked were disturbed.”
An updated report notes the following:
“The Newtown Township Police Department received complaints of seven thefts from vehicles parked in residential driveways in the Newtown Green (Roberts Road and Sugar Maple Drive) section of the township. The thefts took place overnight between Tuesday 11-22-11 and Wednesday 11-23-11. All vehicles that were entered were UNLOCKED. No vehicles that were locked in the area were reported to be disturbed. Items reported stolen from the vehicles were: cash, I Pods, I Phone 4, and sunglasses.”
Take a look on this page for further crime alerts in Newtown: http://www.newtowntownship.org/page.asp?page=policenewsalerts . The site is a little clunky, in the sense that when you click on a link, you have to download and then open a document, rather than going to a webpage that displays the crime activity. I think if the link took you to a webpage with an entire recent history of the crime reports, and perhaps a map showing the locations of reported criminal activity, it would be more user friendly.
The Newtown Police Department only has a page on the township website, rather than its own stand alone website. Hopefully in time they will have the manpower and funding to be able to have a user friendly up to date site that can allow for more community participation and awareness. In the meantime, Lt. Christopher Lunn of Newtown, who runs the e-mail alert list, said, “I encourage all Newtown Township residents to send me their name, home address, and email address and I will include them in my email alerts.” Write him at Lunnc@newtowntownship.org to follow up.
The Marple Township Police have a full internet website at http://marplepolice.com/. One valuable idea is the “anonymous tip” page, where community members can pass along information directly to the police. Go here for more details: http://marplepolice.com/index.php?option=com_rsform&Itemid=34.
While there is no crime map on their site, Marple participates with other area law enforcement agencies, in a joint site, www.crimereports.com, that maps vandalism and petty theft, the two major categories of offenses in Marple Township. Go to that site, enter your address, and you will be taken to a map site that displays icons for theft, theft from vehicle, assault, and breaking and entering, among others. Click on the individual icon and you get the date, time and location of each reported crime. You can also click on the crime report and send the item directly to a friend by e mail. This is exactly the information we all need to do a better job of helping to police our community.
Marple Chief Thomas J. Murray Jr. encourages members of the community to help in community policing:
“In addition to making people aware of crimes, we need their help by contacting us (dialing 911) when they see or hear something out of the norm. Too many times we take a report of a theft and we are told, “I heard the dog barking at 1:00 AM but did not think anything of it," or “I heard a car door close at 2:30 AM but did not think it was anything. We need to be called when these things happen so that we can respond and start to check the area. We do not have enough police to stop every crime but with everyone looking out for each other and reporting what they see it can be very helpful.”
He encourages people to take a look at the www.crimereports.com site and let him know what you think. You can contact Chief Murray at 610-356-1500 ext 231.
People these days are quick to complain, and to expect “government” to protect them from anything bad that might occur in their lives. If we want to have police on every block to monitor every car 24 hours a day, we are going to have to hire hundreds of police for every community.
A more efficient way is simply for each of us to do what the local police ask us to do – take the simple actions such as locking our car doors, and being their eyes and ears, being aware of our neighborhoods, and reporting crimes and suspicious activities.
With the tools now available, such as e-mail lists, websites, crime mapping and e mail, we can be better informed citizens, and we can therefore have better informed police. Let’s encourage the technology that makes us more aware of the crime in our communities, and that facilitates our interaction with our police departments. Visit these sites, try sending notice of nearby crimes to your neighbors, sign up for e mail lists, and be aware that we each have a role to play to make our communities safer.