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More stuff, more theft

February 18, 1997

If you want to keep it, don't leave it in your car, unless you put it out of sight and lock your vehicle securely. That's what Washington County's police agencies are telling motorists in the wake of a steep increase in auto break-ins. It's good advice, even though we're not sure why the jump is occurring now, though we've got a few ideas.

Statistics show that thefts from motor vehicles jumped from 425 in 1995 - about where they'd been since 1993 - to 714 in 1996. Police say that part of the problem is that while residents lock their cars while at work or when shopping, they tend to leave them unlocked while at home.

What hasn't been said is that compared to even five years ago, many residents have more gadgets - with bigger price tags - in their cars than ever before.

Why is that? Because people are spending more time in their cars. Twenty-four percent of Washington County's work force commutes out of the county to work. An equal number of people commute here, on roads that are increasingly crowded. Workers who realize that time spent commuting is also time they can use productively have equipped themselves with the tools to do so.

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Business discussions take place via cellular phones and instead of carrying stacks of paper back and forth, it's easier to haul a laptop computer. While you're spending all that time working, you might as well pamper yourself with a compact disc player.

Cell phones are certainly easier to fence than CB radios, once the target of choice for those who steal from autos. And compact discs, which don't wear out, are easier to peddle out of the trunk of a car than used 8-track or cassette tapes.

Some manufacturers are fighting back by creating units that mount out of sight or in the trunk, to defeat the thieves who want an opportunity to smash the window and grab the merchandise. Police say locking the doors is the best defense, at least until some bright young designer figures out a way to build in the cell phone so a thief can't steal it without taking the dashboard too.

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