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May 24

Property Crime Prevention

Posted on May 24, 2017 at 1:11 PM by Jamie Bastas

We continue to focus our resources towards reducing violence in our community, through strategic partnerships, targeted enforcement, and community engagement. It is an easy sell to engage people in the business of violence reduction. However, we continue to see almost unfettered property crime that doesn’t directly involve violence against persons, and it is much more difficult to get community buy-in for prevention of these crimes. The missing link may be the lack of understanding about the connection between some property crimes and crimes of violence.

We are increasingly seeing that robberies, shootings, and other crimes of violence are being done in conjunction with lesser property crimes. A key example: stolen vehicles. More and more we’re seeing gang activity involving violence using stolen cars to carry out their crimes. The challenging part is that the majority of vehicles stolen or broken into in Newport News are crimes that were completely preventable!

If I asked 100 people how smart it would be to paint their car neon yellow and put a flashing sign on it that said “Steal Me!”, 100% would say that is not a smart thing to do, right? Yet, hundreds if not thousands of our residents leave their cars parked unlocked, many with the key visible from the outside, or leave a “spare” key in the glovebox or center console. I don’t want to sound rude, but that is an open invitation for someone to steal objects out of the car and/or steal the car itself. These are completely preventable crimes.

When someone makes it that easy to steal their car, indirectly they are contributing to the violence in our community. That may sound like a harsh statement, but these are acts of enablement. While it may take an actor with ill intent to carry out the crime, they must be given an opportunity to accompany the intent, and this is where an unsuspecting citizen who is careless about security is unknowingly enabling the crime.

The same can be said about homeowners who obtain handguns to protect themselves and their property, but then leave their weapons unsecured around the house. Overwhelmingly, these guns end up being stolen in burglaries or even on occasion used against the person who obtained them to protect themselves. Unsecured guns in the home contribute to an elevated risk of suicide, theft, domestic violence, etc. The simple act of locking up guns in a gun safe and/or using gun locks prevents most of these potential acts of violence.

For too long, the institution of policing has sold itself as the end-all for stopping crime. The ugly truth is that we are limited in our abilities to reduce crime if we don’t have a fully engaged community in partnership with us, and citizens who regularly practice smart risk reduction behaviors. We WANT people to be safe, act safe, and minimize the odds of victimization. To do this, citizens should know:

• Criminals tend not to hang-out or commit crimes in public areas that are widely occupied by law-abiding citizens who are comfortable using the public space. Public areas where crime is high CAN be “reclaimed” by the public, driving criminals away simply through a combination of visible police presence AND an active community presence.

• Criminals tend to follow the path of least resistance. Think of predators in nature; they tend to go after the weakest link in the herd, separating them off from the masses and striking when they’re most vulnerable. The human corollary of that is for people to gather in numbers, be aware, and target hardening…..if it’s too hard to break into YOUR home, the criminal is going to look for a softer target.

• The majority of crimes are crimes of opportunity. This means that sometimes an offender may “fall into” committing a crime more than be actively on “the hunt”. Consider thefts from cars: in Newport News, the majority of such crimes come from offenders trying every car door in a neighborhood and entering those cars left unlocked, without the need to break glass to enter the car. When they DO break glass, it’s probably due to the attractive valuable laying in full view (laptop, cellphone, tablet, etc.)

• The old maxim of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies to crime: the cost of proper outdoor lighting, door locks, alarms, and simply taking time to lock doors is far cheaper than the cost of recovering from a significant theft experience.

The Newport News Police Department can provide additional crime prevention tips for you, either individually or in group settings. Contact your local precinct for information about how our Community Resource Officers can help with crime prevention planning and preparedness. And….PLEASE LOCK YOUR DOORS.

I welcome comments, questions or suggestions for future blog posts. Feel free to send them my way at chiefsblog@nnva.gov.