Friday, July 2, 2010

Lock or not

An interesting comment at 12:12 on my Wednesday post dealt with the efficacy of locking your car as a deterrent to the crime of larceny from auto:

“I don't think it matters anymore whether the items are in view or hidden, or whether the car is locked or not. These car break-ins are happening almost daily in the parking lots…”
A few minutes later, another comment at 1:32 said,

“I'm pretty sure that the Chief can destroy that argument, with one hand tied behind his back.”

Let’s see if I can live up to that vote of confidence.  I’m not so certain. A seasoned fellow employee whose opinion I trust a great deal made the argument to me a few weeks ago that in some cases, it’s better to leave your car unlocked.  His rationale was this: his daughter’s car had been broken into, even when there was nothing of value inside.  The risk of loss from a stolen stereo, purse, iPod, sunglasses, etc. was effectively nil, but the cost of replacing the broken window was considerable.  She would have been better off, he reasoned, if the thieves would have just opened the door, rummaged around, and figured that there was nothing worth taking.

There is, however, the car itself.  I hate to disagree, but to my way of thinking, anything you do that causes the criminal to expend more energy, take more time, make more noise, and generally expose himself to more risk is a good strategy in the long run.  To illustrate, I looked at all larcenies from auto so far this year.   There have been 1,078 through the end of June. Of those, 454 (42%) of the vehicles were unlocked.  Entry was gained by breaking a window in 210 cases (19%).  In the remainder, either the lock was slipped or the method of entry was unknown.  I do not doubt that many of those cases actually involved an unlocked door, but the victim wasn’t aware (or didn’t want to admit) that the vehicle was unlocked.

This evidence would suggest that locking up is the best policy—despite the slight risk of a glass break.  One of the final comments from Wednesday’s topic (10:07 July 1) summed up my viewpoint quite well:

“Most appealing LFA:

1. Visible loot, unlocked door
2. No visible loot, unlocked door (toss car for any loot, maybe even the keys will be in the glove compartment)
3. Visible loot, locked door
4. No visible loot, locked door

As you go down the list, the risk vs reward gets less and less appealing. If given a choice of something higher on the list vs something lower on the list, the crook will almost always choose the higher option. There is always some dummy who at least does #3, if not #2, or even #1. Make sure that you're only offering option #4”


Anonymous said...

I learned from experience that it is best to leave a vehicle unlocked. When I first started driving OTR tucks it was in the 1970's and CB radios were the hot ticket. I had a real nice CB and I had taken great pains to mount it securely to my doghouse. It was not readily visible from outside the truck (A 1974 Pete C.O) and I always left the sleeper curtains down so nothing in the sleeper was visible. I spent the week end in Oklahoma City one time and I parked the tractor in front of a friends house. This was a fairly nice neighborhood and well lit. I locked the truck. Monday morning as I started my inspection the first thing I noticed was that the door was jimmied (damage $400.00). Next thing I noticed was that my $250.00 radio was still secured to the doghouse but it had been destroyed in the thief's attempt to remove it with a crowbar. Another $300.00 damage to the doghouse. Then the real kicker, my Insurance deductible was $1,000.00. Since then I NEVER lock my doors! I also never leave anything of value in my vehicles. That has worked now for 35 years. Of course since I drive high mileage clunkers no one is going to rip the car off.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Correct; locking the doors doesn't make your car LFA-proof, but it makes the target slightly harder. This would assume that the owner's brain isn't out to lunch, and that they've left no loot or aftermarket gear visible. I don't know about you, but I don't cotton to having some sub-human meth monkey with hepatitis B browsing the interior of my car. Unlocked cars will be rifled, locked cars with no visible loot will almost always be bypassed for the next car that, while locked, has meter money and a phone charger in the console tray.

Grundle King said...

"Slight risk of a glass break"

In my book, 20% is a little higher than "slight". Perhaps in meteorology, a 20% chance of rain is slight...but it doesn't cost me a couple to few hundred dollars if it rains.

I tend to agree with locking up the vehicles being the best policy, but I'm starting to think twice about it. As long as there's nothing of value for them to take...then I could care less if they get caught, so long as I'm not stuck paying for a new window.

Anonymous said...

Leaving any loot or aftermarket equipment visible is just inviting LFA. It's like leaving food in your car while in bear country. There is always theftable gear in semi tractors, always; it's part of what you need to do the job. Alarm the cab or get a big, territorial dog, or both.

You can't draw a parallel from a semi tractor to the average POV as far as pawnable gear goes. Only if the POV owner has been sloppy enough to leave swag or aftermarket gear (including faceplates, sub boxes, etc) visible are they at significant risk of random LFA from their locked vehicle. Two quarters for the meter or a half-pack of smokes is enough to prompt an LFA, because to the crook, if you're dumb enough to leave that, you're dumb enough to leave something else, so keep the interior clean as a whistle. Road dirt on the mats is OK.

Anonymous said...

Yaaaawn!! Get a garage.

Tom Casady said...

Grundle King:

No, your risk of having your window busted out is not 20%. Only 2,500 or so cars will be victims of larceny from auto in Lincoln this year. I don't know how many cars will be parked and available during the year, but there are well over 300,000 registered in this county, so I suspect it is at least that many. Thus, any given car has less than a 1% chance of being entered, and of those, only 1 in 5 will be entered by breaking a window.

Now in reality, not all cars are equally prone to being victimized by a theft. Some are parked indoors, some are parked in areas where thefts are more common, and so forth. I suppose the decision on the best strategy is both individual and situational. The point of my post is to expose two radically different ways of looking at how to minimize the risk that your car will be stolen, your stuff will be taken, and your vehicle will be damaged.

I have my own opinion about this, that I think is supported by the data (unlocked cars make up a large plurality of all the victims). If I drove a beater or a ragtop, I might opt to adopt a different strategy, because the risk of a busted window or a slit top worries me more than the potential for someone to rummage around in my car and find nothing of value.

Anonymous said...


Out of those 210 cases with locked doors and broken widows, how many had visible swag inside? All, or pretty close to it? I submit that if you're not dumb enough to leave loot visible, the chance of having your locked car's window busted isn't anywhere near 19%, and probably isn't even a tenth of that.

Anonymous said...

I know you've in the past defined "swag" but I'm wondering what actually defines "items of value." For instance, I keep a small collapsible umbrella, windshield screens and a lot of those reusable grocery bags in my car, which I lock even in my garage. I do not keep my ipod, satellite radio, phone, sunglasses, etc. in the car. I'm assuming those are the more "valuable" items, correct? Will some loser really break in just to steal my Russ's grocery bags?

One of my friends, who I think can be really stupid, keeps her Husker FB tickets in her glove box. I think this is insanity, but she says it's more convenient for her.

She has had her golf clubs taken twice from her vehicle, which was parked, and locked, in the course parking lot when she and her pals where 19th Holing. She's from Omaha though, so her story may not be relevant to the situation in Lincoln.


Anonymous said...

i had a car at an auto repair shop once, door lock was broken so i couldn't lock car, they still broke the window, and they pried and poked at the dash to get the radio which i could have pulled out in less than 2 seconds sometimes it's not always the item they want, but the destruction that goes along with it

Anonymous said...

How often (if ever) do you see vehicles broken into and a garage door opener is used to get into the garage? This has always been a big concern of mine....

Anonymous said...

So let's assume the average thief has a brain. Wouldn't it make sense to go to a target rich environment like a mall, a gym, a church on Sunday morning, etc. Seems to me those locations may make up a fair number of LFA's and deserve special precautions if you are the car owner. Take those locations out of the mix and lock your car if it's sitting in the driveway and your chance of being a victim is pretty small. Have a nice 4th.


Anonymous said...

I've always been a fan of this one ... of course, it has disadvantages in parking lots.

Steve said...

My new Harley Davidson doesn't have any windows to break, or doors to pry open! :)