Written by: Greg Ellifritz
Two years ago, I wrote an article titled Lock Your Damn Doors. In that article I looked at a month’s worth of burglary and theft reports from the city where I worked and tracked how many theft victims had left their houses or cars unlocked before the thefts occurred.
The results? 83% of the theft victims had left their doors unlocked, making the criminals’ jobs extremely easy.
Another spring, another increase in theft offenses. I decided to repeat the study to see if the victims in my city had learned any lessons in the last two years. I tracked all the thefts from vehicles and burglaries reported in the city where I work (an upper-class Midwest suburb with around 35,000 residents) during the month of April.
Here are the numbers:
Number of vehicles entered- 23
Unlocked vehicles- 19
Locked vehicles- 2
Unknown or unreported status- 2
Number of Houses (or attached garages) entered- 4
Unlocked houses (or attached garages)- 4
Locked houses (or attached garages)- 0
More than 83% of the vehicles with items stolen were unlocked! EVERY house that was burglarized was entered through an unlocked door or window. In only two cases did thieves actually break a window to steal something. In each of those cases, the item(s) stolen were expensive and clearly within view from the outside of the vehicle. You can safely assume that if there is nothing visible to steal in your car, thieves won’t break windows just to check. On the other hand, if you leave your doors unlocked, thieves will open the door and see what they can find. As the title of the article says: Lock your damn doors! If you don’t want your crap stolen, keep your doors locked and valuables out of sight.
I find it extraordinarily interesting that I got almost the same numbers for the study that I did two years ago. We had one fewer theft from a vehicle, but the percentage of locked vehicles entered was exactly the same.
While most residents think it’s mischievous teens stealing from cars, that really isn’t the case anymore. Twenty years ago, almost all car break-ins were kids looking for pocket change or something they could quickly sell for beer money. Now it’s almost all adult heroin addicts who are breaking into cars. We catch these thieves on a regular basis and I can’t remember the last one I’ve dealt with that wasn’t hooked on heroin.
Locking doors should be common sense, but for 23 of our residents last month, it wasn’t. Want to see how a thief operates? Check out this surveillance video from a friend. He has cameras trained on his vehicles in the driveway and on the street. Here is footage of a thief checking his car doors. Take note that the thief, in his quest to look “casual” barely even looks inside. He’s just checking for unlocked doors. If he finds one, he’ll look for valuables from the inside.
The same advice also applies to your house as well. We had at least four burglaries last month where thieves entered through an unlocked door. The standard M.O. for these burglars is to find a house that appears unoccupied. They’ll knock on the door and if no one answers, they will walk around the house looking for an unlocked entrance. If they find a door unlocked, they go inside.
The thieves go straight to the master bedroom and steal jewelry and all the small electronics they can gather on the way. They are in and out of the house in only a few minutes. A couple years ago, one of our residents came home to find a thief in his house. He had been gone only a few minutes and left the front door unlocked. The female thief told him a story about being sick and needing to use the restroom immediately. She apologized and told him she couldn’t wait and didn’t have time to knock on any other doors to ask permission. The homeowner checked her to make sure she didn’t have any stolen property and then let her go. He called us about 20 minutes after she left, wondering if he had done the right thing.
Fortunately, one of our detectives recognized this M.O. from a previous investigation. Sure enough, it was the same girl. The girl went to jail for felony burglary. Lock your damn doors!
One of the common excuses I hear for not locking home doors is “I have a big dog. No one will come in when he is barking.” Don’t be so sure. I worked one case where dogs had no deterrent value at all. This one was also a house burglary where thieves entered through an unlocked door. The two thieves got away with more than $40,000 worth of jewelry. Nothing else was taken.
The homeowner didn’t lock her door because she had two very large and aggressive dogs in the house. She didn’t think any burglars would take the chance of being bitten by the dogs and wouldn’t dare open the door. She was wrong.
The thieves saw the dogs and concocted a plan. They entered the (unlocked) detached garage. One of them grabbed a yard rake and the other grabbed a scrap piece of lumber. They used the rake and lumber to drive the dogs back into an area where they could close a pet gate and isolate them to a small area of the house. With the dogs walled off, the criminals went straight for the bedroom and stole the jewelry. They left the rake and the piece of lumber in the house entryway.
I previously wrote about the problems with making the assumption that you are “safe” just because you have a large dog. I wrote about how the formal research really doesn’t support that conclusion. Now I’ve experienced that first hand. These big aggressive dogs didn’t deter the thieves for a minute. Don’t rely on your pets to protect you. Lock your damn doors!
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