‘Watch Your Car’ month stresses drivers’ role in preventing theft

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, July 10, 2013

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They say in a big city, you lock your car so people won’t steal it, or steal stuff out of it.

In a small town, you lock your car so people won’t put sacks of squash and cucumbers in there.

Whatever the reason, it’s a good idea to lock your car.

Most Wise County communities have a small-town feel – people leave cars, even houses, unlocked. But car theft and car burglary are real and growing problems, even in small towns.

“We see a lot of car theft for our population size,” Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins said. “So far this year we’ve had five – we average about one a month. Most years we’ll have 11 to 17.

“Almost every one, the keys were left in them.”

Earlier this year in Rhome, at least 15 cars were burglarized by four young men who just went walking through a neighborhood, opening car doors and taking whatever they could get their hands on.

“Most cars in the neighborhood were unlocked,” Rhome Police Chief James Rose said. “This is a small town, and people aren’t used to locking their cars.”

Those thefts were captured on security cameras at a couple of homes, and the recordings were turned over to police.

“They were walking up to the cars, cool as a cucumber, and trying to open them,” Rose said.

Historically, July is the month when the most vehicle thefts and burglaries occur in Texas. That’s why the Texas Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority (ABTPA) has declared this month “Watch Your Car Month.”

Nearly 65,000 vehicles were stolen in Texas in 2012. Any vehicle is a potential target, and those most often stolen are at least four years old.

Cars with the keys in them and doors unlocked are the prime targets.

“We don’t have a big problem with people breaking in and hot-wiring them,” Hoskins said. “Most of the time it’s when people leave them unlocked.”

Once a vehicle is stolen, all kinds of additional crimes may take place. The vehicle may be used to commit another crime. It may be driven recklessly, involved in an accident, or it may be dismantled so parts can be sold to fund other crimes.

In Decatur, most stolen cars are recovered, Hoskins said. But often the valuable items that were left inside are not.

Much like thefts involving the entire vehicle, drivers help burglars when they leave their belongings in plain sight. Items like keys or garage door openers can provide thieves access to the driver’s home.

In 2011, a total of 221,065 vehicle burglaries were reported in Texas. Decatur’s statistics mirror those.

“Burglary of a motor vehicle is definitely a big problem here,” Hoskins said. “This year alone we’ve probably had 75.”

Most of the time the thieves target purses, GPS units, loose change, laptop computers, phones or other electronics.

“They take a little bit of everything,” Hoskins said. “A lot of people leave computers in plain sight in their cars. That’s particularly what we see at the motels.

“It’s pretty basic – lock your car, take the keys, hide your valuables.”

Drivers should also be aware that thieves seek locations where cars are likely to be left for long periods of time – homes, malls, gyms, movie theaters or even churches. Thieves are looking for the biggest financial payoff that can be gained in the shortest amount of time and with the greatest ease.

Six task forces are currently operating in North Texas, funded by ABTPA and affiliated with local agencies including the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office and the University of North Texas.

For additional tips on preventing vehicle crime or for information on “Watch Your Car Month,” the North Texas ABTPA task forces can be reached by calling 800-CAR-WATCH.

Anyone with information on an auto theft or burglary may contact Wise County Crime Stoppers at 940-627-5971, ext. 236.

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