How to avoid being a Holiday ‘car prowl’ victim

Shocking but true, cops say – in less than 60 seconds, a crook can smash out your car window and steal all the joy from your Christmas! Learn what steps police officers, and volunteers, are taking to help …

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Sergeant John Scruggs briefs neighborhood volunteers about this year’s “car prowl” mission in Gateway.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Here’s an idea – go shopping with your hard-earned money, and then give away the prized gifts you’ve just bought to some low-life thug!

A foolish notion, you say?

Yet “Car prowls” happen every day outside of outer East Portland shopping centers and in business districts, says Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander William Walker. “We’re seeing an increase in car prowls this year – and especially during the Holiday season.”

The term “car prowl” seems tame enough – but it’s police lingo for the criminal act of smashing in a car’s window and grabbing whatever is inside.

“People are busy, going from one shopping location to the next,” Walker says. “They don’t always think about putting the items that they’ve just purchased into the trunk of their car; they just leave it on the back seat, where anyone can see it.”

And there are criminals, Walker tells us, who skulk through parking lots with just one thing in mind: A “smash-and-grab” theft, and then hightailing it out of the area. “It takes them less than a minute to damage your vehicle, and steal your goods.”

Volunteer Fern Wilgus warns a shopper against leaving merchandise in his vehicle, especially during the Holiday season.

Car prowl mission seeks to educate
In the Gateway Fred Meyer Shopping Center lot, we meet up with East Precinct officers and volunteers who are setting out on a mission to educate shoppers – on the crisp afternoon of December 16.

Again this year, East Precinct Sergeant John Scruggs is in charge of the operation.

“It is a community education campaign, rather than a law-enforcement mechanism,” Scruggs reminds us. “Our officers are always on patrol – keeping an especially sharp eye out during the Holidays – but we can’t be everywhere, all of the time. It’s more efficient and effective to educate people not to leave their valuables behind, than trying to nab car prowlers.”

Not only do crooks tour parking lots, looking for items to steal from vehicles, Scruggs revealed – but they also keep a sharp eye out for shoppers, laden with purchases, coming out of stores. “They just make a mental note of where the merchandise is going. After the person leaves their car to continue shopping, they check out the vehicle. If they can see the merchandise, they can probably steal it.”

Prevent crime in your driveway
Commander Walker reminds that during the Holiday season, car prowls are up in neighborhoods – even including vehicles parked in home driveways.

“People leave things in their car overnight – like purses, computers, and even firearms,” Walker points out. “It’s bad to lose a GPS or laptop computer. But if a criminal gets your wallet or credit cards, you can be sure you’ll be paying for items on someone else’s gift list.”

ONI Crime Prevention Specialist Jenni Bernheisel and East Precinct Officer Joe Young give Gateway neighbor Phil Hess the lowdown on car prowls.

Holiday shopping safety tips

  • Move it or lose it – If you need to stash purchases and then continue shopping at the same location, take a break and drive through the parking lot for a couple minutes – then park in a different place before returning to your shopping.
  • Hide GPS Accessories – Leaving the mounting device, or a power supply, visible, Commander Walker says “Is like leaving a $100 bill taped to your windshield.”
  • Leave nothing visible – To a druggie crook, your grease-stained lunch bag might contain diamond earrings. While they’d find they’ve stolen nothing of value, you’ll still have to pay to replace your busted window.
  • Look up, be aware – Muggers prey on multi-taskers – arms loaded with merchandise, talking on their cellphones, who aren’t paying attention to their surroundings.

“We don’t want to see people lose their hard-earned money or their Christmas gifts, especially this time of year,” Walker concludes. “Don’t leave anything in view, even if you’ll only be gone for five minutes. That’s all it takes for someone to steal the best part of your Christmas.”

The message on this flyer is simple, yet urgently important. You’ve been warned!

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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