Written by: Greg Ellifritz
Five 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.
Every year since then I’ve reported on my city’s April theft offenses. I decided to repeat the study to see if the victims in my city had learned any lessons in the last few 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- 8
Unlocked vehicles- 8
Locked vehicles- 0
Percent of vehicles unlocked- 100%
Number of houses (or garages) entered- 0
Unlocked houses (or garages)- 0
Locked houses (or garages)- 0
Percent of residences unlocked- N/A
In comparison, here are the statistics for April car break-ins and residential burglaries over the last few years since I’ve been keeping track:
25 vehicles entered. 100% unlocked.
8 houses entered. 50% unlocked
13 vehicles entered. 79% unlocked
10 houses or garages entered. 70% unlocked.
23 vehicles entered. 86% unlocked
4 houses or garages entered. 100% unlocked.
2015- No stats gathered
24 vehicles entered. 83% unlocked
10 houses or garages entered. 70% unlocked.
The statistics for this year are somewhat astonishing to me. It’s the first year in a long time that we’ve gone an entire month without a burglary or Breaking and Entering complaint. The number of cars entered is roughly 1/3 of the average of previous years. I attribute this to a really cold and rainy April. I think even the criminals were staying inside.
This is the second year in a row since I have been tracking that 100% of vehicle thefts occurred in unlocked vehicles. Not a single car window was broken to steal anything. I find that absolutely shocking. 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 stuff stolen, keep your doors locked and valuables out of sight.
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.
Items stolen from unlocked cars last month include several laptop computers valued at over $1000 each, lots of cash, $500 prescription sunglasses, and a 9mm Smith and Wesson auto pistol. The report of the firearm theft stated that the owner “thought” he had locked the car, but wasn’t certain. As there was no exterior damage and no indications that the vehicle doors had been forced open in any manner, I classified it as an unlocked vehicle. In the seven other cases, the residents admitted that they had left their vehicles unlocked.
Locking doors should be common sense, but for 8 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 into the car. 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. 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 while picking up any jewelry, cash, guns, and 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 part 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 your 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!