Don’t be a car prowl victim this holiday season!

Discover the simple steps that cops and volunteers are telling shoppers both to protect their newly-purchased gifts – and their vehicles. It’s good advice, year around …

Outside the Eastport Plaza Wal-Mart store, Charity Hefner learns car prowl safety tips from Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Jeff Pontius.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Whether it’s called a “smash-and-grab” or “car prowl”, the result is the same: A vehicle has a door pried open – or a window smashed out by a crook using “ninja rocks”, a hammer, or their fist – and whatever was visible in the vehicle has been stolen.

On December 12, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct officers, and neighborhood public safety volunteers, fanned out across the Eastport Plaza parking lot on a mission to inform holiday shoppers about car prowls, and how to avoid being a victim.

Tom Barnes, Chair of the public safety committee of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, and East Precinct Sergeant John Scruggs, together head out from the Police Bureau’s “Mobile Precinct” to inform holiday shoppers about car prowl risks.

Cops keep an eye out
East Precinct’s Sergeant John Scruggs said that, thanks to past efforts, car prowls are down 11% this year. “But this doesn’t mean you’re safe, if you were seen putting valuables into your vehicle and then walking away.”

Scruggs said that criminals are always on the lookout for an “easy mark” – an inattentive motorist. “We’re on this informational mission because, during the Holidays, people are in a rush; they tend to leave purchases in their vehicle when they dash into a store. But all it takes is a moment for a criminal to smash a window, and grab your goods.”

Neighbors help spread the word
Tom Barnes, who chairs Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association’s public safety committee, said that while Eastport Plaza is in the Lents neighborhood, the problem affects everyone in outer East Portland.

“I came out today because it’s our opportunity to help ‘save’ somebody’s Christmas,” Barnes explained. “We’re helping people become aware that it’s a bad idea to leave valuables – or anything – visible in their car or truck. Nothing will spoil Christmas faster than buying gifts and then finding they’ve been stolen. I know from personal experience – I’ve been a car prowl victim myself.”

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Joe Young, along with Pat Smith, Dave Smith – coordinator of East Portland Involved Citizens (EPIC), and East Precinct Officer Patrick Nagy, here hand out leaflets explaining the dangers of leaving gifts – or any packages – visible in vehicles.

Anti-Car Prowl safety tips

  • Never be seen putting anything into your vehicle, then leaving it. If you need to continue shopping at that location, move your vehicle to another spot in the parking lot before going back in to shop.
  • Leave your vehicle “showroom clean”. On-dash GPS systems, laptop bags, mail, or receipts provide an invitation to steal your goods – or your identity.
  • Don’t leave anything exposed – even yesterday’s lunch in a paper bag! To a drugged-up criminal, the bag or box holding a yesterday’s soggy egg salad sandwich may contain a brand-new Rolex watch or other treasure. While the crook will be disappointed at what’s in the bag, you’ll still be paying at least $300 to replace your car window.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Muggers look for people who are looking down and are focused of their immediate task. Look up and around, as you go about your shopping.

Both Scruggs and Barnes said they’ve been very well received during the mission. And if you follow their common sense tips, you’ll have a happier Christmas Season and New Year.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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