Same message, different tactics: Experts weigh in on protecting your car from thieves

A few weeks ago, Shorewood Hills Police Chief Aaron Chapin was faced with a string of car thefts in his village. About 10 homes were broken into. Some of those families had their cars stolen, as well. Seeing residents falling victim to the ongoing trend of burglaries, he planned a neighborhood meeting to talk about ways to protect homes from those crimes. Knowing he was also a potential target, he also made changes at his own home.

Same message, different tactics: Experts weigh in on protecting your car from thieves

“The first line of defense is making sure that you’re securing your property, making sure your property is not readily available for somebody else to take, and taking some very easy steps to make sure your property is secure,” Chapin said.

According to Madison police data, 343 vehicles have been reported stolen from the start of this year through October. That’s compared with 344 cars reported stolen over the same 10-month period last year.

In the last month alone, 21 vehicles were reported stolen. Of those, 20 had keys in them or keys that were easily accessible. Two were unlocked and running at the time of the theft.

As Chapin knows, these crimes are primarily committed by teenagers. He said it’s unlikely those thieves have all been caught and even less likely the behavior will end anytime soon.

A number of these criminals target garages and involve gaining access to garage door openers.

“We know that if vehicles are unlocked and left on a driveway, as opposed to being secured in a garage, that if there’s a garage door opener inside the vehicle and the vehicle gets broken into, then the garage can be easily accessed,” Chapin said.

It’s why Chapin installed special locks on his front door, the exterior door into his attached garage and the door from the garage into the house. Those locks are programed to automatically deadbolt the door after one minute. Chapin also gets notifications on his phone about doors being opened and locked.

Same message, different tactics: Experts weigh in on protecting your car from thieves

Theresa Waage is a security supervisor with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department who’s trained in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED. The certification helps her look at a building like a criminal would, allowing her to identify possible points of access and recommend ways to prevent a break-in.

Same message, different tactics: Experts weigh in on protecting your car from thieves

“So we would look at the exterior doors, the entry points, including access doors, as well as windows, HVAC systems, and then kind of work our way in,” Waage said. “It’s kind of like an onion, if you will, and you have layers to work through.”

Waage said some of the tactics she implements are more obvious and common, such as cameras, contact alarms or latch guards. Waage said lighting can also make a big difference, so she looks for ways to enhance that. Other suggestions, however, are more ambiguous. For instance, Waage sometimes uses benches to increase foot traffic to certain areas, something she calls “natural surveillance.”

“We want to enhance that, encourage that behavior, because they are witnesses. They are those who are out there and can provide suspect information in case something were to happen,” Waage said.

Another strategy Waage sometimes implements involves locking certain doors and funneling people through the same entrance. She said that allows even homeowners to monitor who’s coming in and out of the house more clearly.

Aside from installing camera systems and locking doors, Waage also encourages homeowners to talk to their neighbors.

“Letting them know who’s in the neighborhood, if you have a different vehicle that’s parked outside, just simple things like that and take those steps to protect your property and your family,” Waage said.

Chapin now has a Ring doorbell on his front door, as well, but he said other gadgets aside from cameras and automatic locks might help protect your property. For instance, he suggests looking into a garage door opener that attaches to your key ring rather than ones that stay in your car and might be more easily accessible to people trying to break in and steal a car.

News 3 Now looked at all the Madison Police incident reports associated with car thefts so far this year. Click on the PDF file below to see a timeline of significant car thefts in 2019. You can access more details by clicking on the individual crime descriptions.

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