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Your analysis of your particular problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The following responses, drawing from a variety of research studies and police reports, provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. Several of these responses may apply to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different approaches. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. The responsibility of responding, in some cases, may need to be shifted toward those who have the capacity to implement more effective responses. (For more detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems.)
While there are a number of effective responses to protect cars that are parked in parking lots or facilities, there are fewer clearly effective solutions that local police can implement to prevent thefts from residential streets and driveways. The streets on which cars are parked may be wide or narrow, treed or bare of vegetation, and lit or unlit; the risks of theft vary according to these environments. The fact that streets and the driveways attached to them are accessible to everyone makes cars very vulnerable. Probably the most effective response for car owners is not to park their cars in the open streets or driveways. Of course, many car owners, especially in more densely populated residential areas, are forced to park on the streets because they do not have garages or driveways.
The capacity to prevent theft of cars and their components at the local level is limited, especially when cars are parked on the street where they are easily accessible at any time of the day, with few obstacles in the way of the thief. The solution in large part depends on car manufacturers, who have begun in recent years to design cars that are much more secure from theft, and on car insurers, who have demanded that cars be designed with security as a major concern, just as they did previously in regard to car safety. 12 Obviously, at the local level, police must respond to the problem regardless of the level of security built into the cars in that vicinity.
Because there is little evaluative research available on this problem, it is uncertain how effective many of the responses described below are. They are nonetheless grounded in accepted crime prevention principles.1. Promoting sales of cars with in-built security systems. The most effective techniques that have reduced car theft over the last three decades have been car security systems installed by manufacturers. These systems have included:
The majority of these effective responses for reducing thefts of cars require national or statewide action, which may be beyond the reach of your local agency.§
§ Reforms such as tightening vehicle registration rules require legislative or state agency action.
There are also some after-market security devices and systems that enjoy wide popularity. These include:
New technologies have shown promise in reducing car theft.17 The local police role with respect to car security systems might be to advocate their use by local car owners.
All of the above systems, whether manufacturer installed or added later, may be effective against theft of cars, but they will do little to prevent theft from cars.
As we have seen, cars are generally safer in driveways than parked on streets, but this will depend to some extent on the length of the driveway, shrubbery, lighting, and other factors that affect natural surveillance. Some preventive responses to protect driveways have been found effective—such as those that increase the risk to the offender in carrying out burglaries of single-family houses§—there is little research that evaluates the responses outlined below. Many of the examples reported are of promising programs, but because they were not scientifically evaluated it is difficult to rule out other explanations of reported effectiveness.
§ See Problem-Specific Guide No. 18, Burglary of Single-family Houses.
Many common sense techniques may be applied locally, though they may often depend on car owner and property owner action in order to implement them. In fact, some police agencies have found that community residents do not secure their personal property as well as they should. 18 Unsecured cars, cars with valuables left in plain view, poor house and street lighting, and vegetation or other features that provide concealment for thieves are commonplace. Thus, educating citizens often plays a central part in any prevention program adopted by a local police department.192. Partnering with business. Insurance companies bear much of the cost of thefts, and they may assist police at a local level by providing financial resources and reporting insurance fraud. Insurance companies are becoming more directly involved in crime prevention measures, which is part of a trend of increasing involvement on the part of businesses in combating crime. 20 Police in Colorado Springs (Colorado) were able to obtain unmarked cars for their auto-theft patrol units at no cost from automobile insurance companies.21 Special skills and techniques are needed in developing business partnerships.§
§ Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 5, Partnering with Businesses to Address Public Safety Problems, describes the steps police should take in developing productive relationships with businesses.3. Promoting securely designed neighborhoods. Taking a long-term view, police can work with property developers and community planners to make sure that new residential developments are designed to create more "defensible space" where cars can be more safely parked and do not have to be parked on open streets.§§
§§ See the website of the International CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) Association at www.cpted.net for further information about the relationship between neighborhood design and crime.4. Educating patrol officers about car theft patterns. Educating patrol officers as to the nature and extent of the car crime problem can aid in producing more arrests and alleviating public concerns. Information concerning the methods of operation of the thieves and the characteristics of offenders, if known, and any information concerning likely suspects, can be passed on to officers who patrol the problem area. Little scientific evidence exists to demonstrate the effectiveness of such training. However, common sense dictates that if officers can be educated about a problem with a minimum expenditure of resources, they should be more effective at countering the problem.
The specific responses are classified into three areas: security, education and enforcement. However all three are closely related, and it is likely that any program aimed at reducing thefts of and from cars will include responses from all three areas.
§ Henrico County, Virginia police (2001) coordinated a program in which homeowners shared the costs of additional street lighting to deter thefts from cars.6. Removing vegetation and other cover. Thieves looking for quick and easy items to steal choose targets where the risk of detection and apprehension is low. Trees with low branches and high shrubs that obscure the view of the property from the street can provide a thief with concealment. Simple trimming or removal of such vegetation, or alteration of other structures that give cover to thieves, can deprive potential criminals of concealment.26 Tips regarding this subject can be included in flyers and presentations to citizens and groups.
Local public works or highway department officials may be able to aid in trimming low branches along the street or other vegetation in undeveloped areas to improve visibility and remove readily available concealment for thieves.27
§ See Response Guide No. 2, Closing Streets and Alleys to Reduce Crime for a more detailed account of this response to a variety of problems.8. Installing and monitoring video surveillance (CCTV). Video surveillance devices can provide a low-cost method (compared to using manpower) of providing 24-hour monitoring of streets. While these devices may not record a criminal act, they could potentially aid the police in identifying a car or known individual that is in the area where the crimes are occurring and who has no reasonable cause to be in such place. However, it is unclear under what circumstances and what specific locations video surveillance may be effective.28 Although the cameras provide 24-hour coverage, unless dozens are employed the odds of capturing a crime on video are negligible. It is likely that video surveillance in itself may be ineffective in identifying and apprehending offenders, depending on the locations, a fact that offenders quickly discover.29 However, new technologies for deciphering unusual movements in video images may increase the effectiveness and efficiency of these devices in the future.
The primary utility of video surveillance lies in increasing potential offenders' perceived risk of getting caught, rather than in real-time monitoring for identification or apprehension of offenders. Prominently posted signs indicating that the area is under surveillance, combined with media publicity, may enhance the effect of video surveillance, though evaluative research has produced mixed results. Finally, the installation of video cameras in some suburban neighborhoods may be opposed by local citizen groups because of their intrusiveness. Their acceptance would most likely depend on how serious the problem of theft of and from cars was in the neighborhood.§
§ For a comprehensive assessment of using video surveillance see Response Guide No. 4., Video Surveillance of Public Places.
§ See Response Guide No. 5, Crime Prevention Publicity Campaigns, for further information about the effectiveness of publicity campaigns.
§§ See the Hampshire Constabulary's (2004) Operation Cobra for an example of a comprehensive car crime publicity campaign.
Among the most important messages to convey to car owners are the following:
§ The IMPACT Team in British Columbia has launched a website (www.baitcar.com) where citizens can view in-car video of the thefts and subsequent arrests involving bait cars. The site includes crime prevention tips, and has generated thousands of daily hits. They have recently launched new initiatives including bait Alternative Terrain Vehicles, motorcycles, boats, and snowmobiles.13. Tracking stolen goods. Local pawnshops and second-hand stores that trade in the most frequently stolen items, such as compact disks and car stereos, should be contacted directly. Not only can they be checked for any identifiable items (most states require pawn brokers to record the identity of all persons delivering property to them, and to show their records to the police upon demand), but police can also use the opportunity to educate store owners about the problem, enlist their aid, and/or warn them of the consequences of receiving stolen property.†
Some examples of diversion programs aimed at young auto thieves are:
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