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Car Theft: a (Mostly Preventable) Problem in Springfield

The Springfield Police Department says it’s overwhelmed right now with the amount of vehicle break-ins taking place in the center city area. What’s more, these are largely crimes that are 100 percent preventable…and it’s putting a huge strain on an already cash-strapped police department. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe spoke with police has this report.

The issue has left Springfield police officers scratching their heads, says Corporal Matt Brown. He claims the “Lock it to Stop it” public service announcements issued last October by Police Chief Paul Williams and the sheriff’s department aren’t proving to be effective, particularly with college students.

Brown says the city has seen over 3,600 vehicles broken into in 2011—that’s an average of about ten a day—and over three quarters of those vehicles were left unlocked.

“It’s so incredibly simple. And that’s what’s frustrating for us as police officers because it takes, literally, an extra 15 to 20 seconds to negate about 80 to 90 percent of this crime, and that’s just: put your valuables in the trunk and lock your car,” Brown said.

Brown thinks it’s a matter of convenience for people to leave their cars unlocked as they, for example, run into the grocery store for a moment. A lot of other people assume certain lots are a safe enough place to leave a vehicle unlocked. Though Springfield is praised as a safe city, Brown urges residents to stop feeling so over-secure; the number of vehicle break-ins is increasing every year, and it’s costing the taxpayers a lot of money.

“If you look at vehicle break-ins in general, and apply the dollar amount that an officer at the street level that has to do the initial investigation, the sergeant that reviews the cases, the detective that’s assigned the case, the follow up that goes from there, you could even take it as far as the prosecutor and the judge, the dollar amount that goes into that, per case, would be in the thousands,” Brown said.

Brown says it’s hard for the police department to be pro-active in preventing these crimes. Car thieves prowl the parking lots in search of the easy targets, and take off with their stolen loot, all within five to 10 minutes. He says the holiday shopping season provides car thieves with even more motivation.

“This time of year, the bad guys know that everybody’s out doing Christmas shopping, everybody’s putting valuables in their car, and this is prime opportunity for them as well,” Brown said.

Brown says to simply put your valuables in the trunk and lock your car. If more people follow this procedure, Brown says the police department can spend its time and money on bigger issues, catching the “bigger fish” of local crime. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.