Over the past week the Evanston Police Department has received several reports of unknown offenders who break out driver-side windows of vehicles removing GPS devices and other items of value left in the vehicle. The following vehicle burglary prevention strategies should aid in preventing this crime:

Don’t leave valuables in your car. That sounds like “common sense”, but drivers/passengers do leave items of value in plain view every day. If you leave valuable items visible in your car, your car is automatically a target.

If you must leave valuable items in your car while out and about, place items out of sight before reaching your destination or move them inconspicuously. This includes packages, backpacks, gym bags, GPS units, MP3 players, and so forth. Someone may be watching when you put items under a seat or throw something over them. An opportunistic thief is on the lookout for trunk-packing, and can break into your car the minute you’re out of sight.

If you can’t take them with you, at least lock the items in your glove compartment (if capable of locking and large enough) or your trunk (if you have one). One reason SUVs and pickups are common auto-burglary targets is because they don’t have a “trunk” to hold valuables — the driver/passenger generally just “hides” their valuables “out of sight”. The thieves know this, and do check glove compartments, behind seats, and under seats. It only takes a few seconds to check all the “usual” hiding places. Unobtrusively locking everything valuable “in the trunk” (if you have one) may be difficult when you’re combining errands at multiple destinations. Certainly avoid leaving packages or shopping bags visible in your car — lock them in the trunk out of sight if you have to leave packages in your car unattended. Plan your shopping/errands so that you don’t load your trunk until you are ready to drive to another destination; never open a trunk, fill it full of valuables, close it, and then just walk away.

Keep your car in good operating condition and always have plenty of gas to get “there and back” (it costs no more to keep the top quarter of the tank filled than to keep the bottom quarter-tank filled!); you don’t want to have to leave your car (and valuable contents) sitting along the side of the road if that can be avoided. Once home, unload your valuables immediately. Do not store valuables in your car any longer than necessary, and certainly never overnight. If your trunk can be opened from inside your car without a key, lock this feature when you are not in your car or have it disabled, if possible.

Leave no trace. Don’t leave any “sign” that there might be valuables “out of sight” in your vehicle, such as docking stations or connector cables. Leave nothing in “plain sight” that might make your vehicle worth “investigating” by a thief; not even loose coins or a CD. Just leaving an empty docking station in plain sight, even if you’ve taken the high dollar component with you, may end up costing you hundreds of dollars to replace a broken window because the thief wanted to check your car for “hidden” valuables. Very few auto break-ins are “random” — the thieves see “something” in plain sight that’s valuable, or hints of possible hidden valuables. If you have an after-market stereo/CD-player with a removable faceplate, remove it. Without the faceplate, the unit is less attractive/useful to many thieves, and harder to “fence”. If the unit can be pulled, pull it! Take it with you. Just covering a valuable radio (or ANY valuables in your car) with something (like a blanket or towel) to hide it will probably only draw thieves’ attention.

Try to park in busy, well-lighted areas. Try to park in well-traveled areas. Large anonymous lots are hit by thieves much more often than parking immediately adjacent to residential housing or other occupied buildings. On a busy campus, day or night, “picking” your parking spot is easier said than done — but try to choose a well-lighted, visible, parking spot where there is lots of vehicular and pedestrian movement when possible. Auto-burglars prefer breaking into cars where they will not observed or attract notice, and choose their targets accordingly.

Lock ALL your vehicle’s doors even if you plan to be gone for only a brief time. Every year, we have items stolen from unlocked vehicles where the owner was only going to be gone “just for a second”. It only takes seconds to steal your stuff! It’s not at all uncommon for thieves to walk down a row of parked vehicles and check vehicle doors to see if they are unlocked.

Don’t leave any window open or even cracked open, including vent/wing windows and sunroofs.

Set your alarm or anti-theft device. If you have one, use it! Many people believe that car-alarms no longer make a difference, but they can be an effective deterrent to an auto-burglar, who most often chooses the easiest target. If they have two cars to choose from, one with an alarm and one without, they will likely burglarize the one without (unless you’ve left out valuables just too good to ignore!). Locking your car and setting your alarm is just part of the solution. Even if locked and alarmed, if you leave valuables (or the hint of valuables) in plain sight, a thief may target your car, even knowing it’s locked and alarmed. But, without a clear prize in sight, a locked/alarmed car will likely be bypassed for an easier “target of opportunity”. Don’t think your dark tinted windows will hide your valuables. Thieves often use flashlights to see through tint, and after-market tint is handy to keep all the broken glass in one “sheet” when they break out your window (and toss the broken window into your back seat or passenger seat to hide the evidence of the break-in from passersby). Don’t use “hide-a-keys”. Thieves know the best places to hide those. But remember, just “locking” isn’t enough. Keep your car OFF the target list of the thieves by keeping all hints of valuables totally out of sight. If they see something tempting, they certainly can break in.

Mark your valuables! As a last line of defense (not really to prevent theft as much as to aid in recovery), mark your valuables. Recording serial numbers is dandy, but nowadays many serial numbers are on removable “labels”, rather than “engraved” into valuable items. Also, a serial number doesn’t “directly” link you to your stolen property. We’d suggest inscribing/engraving a “personal identifier” on all valuables. Don’t use your social security number (identity theft) — use your driver’s license (DL) number, prefaced by your DL “state”, such as “S123-4567-8910 IL”. With that marking, any police officer can trace your valuable back to you, wherever it’s recovered, and the chances of being reunited with your stolen valuables is dramatically increased.