Saturday, March 08, 2008

Theft From Auto in PSA 307

One of the biggest problems in Logan Circle is the ubiquitous Theft From Auto. According to the DC Crime Map, in the last two months, 84 out of 148 property crimes in our neighborhood were car break-ins. Over half of the thefts in our neighborhood are of valuables from cars. And the problem is getting worse. The statistics show a 15% increase in these crimes over last year. With the summer months fast approaching, I'm guessing we'll see an even larger increase over last year.

The solution to the problem requires a two-prong approach. First, residents and visitors must not leave valuables in their vehicles. Theft from Auto is a crime of opportunity. Unattended items in a car present an easy chance to grab-and-run, and the quiet residential nature of so much of Logan Circle makes for a low risk of getting caught. Look at the crime map above: You don't see many break-ins on 14th Street or in front of Whole Foods! We need a campaign to educate the residents and visitors in our neighborhood to be smart about what they leave in their automobiles.

The other piece of the puzzle is police enforcement. The quick nature of a Theft from Auto means that police don't usually catch the thief red-handed. We only get that lucky once in a while. There are other techniques, though, besides patrolling the streets. The MPD has successfully used bait cars to catch smash-and-grab thieves quite recently on Capitol Hill. Logan Circle is a perfect candidate for bait cars, and if they're not already in use here, let's hope they can be brought to bare soon.

In theory, it only takes a few arrests from a bait car to dramatically bring down the crime rate. The idea is similar to the idea of the LoJack:

The thief's challenge is that it's impossible to determine which vehicle has a LoJack (there's no decal). So stealing any car becomes significantly more risky, and one academic study found that the introduction of LoJack in Boston reduced car theft there by 50 percent.

In this case, though, the thief has to decide whether or not the car is actually an MPD bait car. Even though the number of bait cars is very small, if the thief happens to "win" that lottery, he's absolutely guaranteed to be caught. Making a living stealing from cars becomes much, much riskier. So instead of spending millions of dollars on crime cameras that don't work, perhaps we should consider spending money on more bait cars and officers (or auxiliaries!) to monitor them.

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