Hey, Annapolis car owners: Lock it up!

Thefts from unsecured vehicles plague Annapolis police

March 06, 2013|Susan Reimer

Cash on the center console. GPS devices on the windshield. Laptops. Smart phones. iPads, iPods. Digital cameras. XBox 360 headphones. Bose iPhone speaker docks. Credit cards, lose change. Wallets, purses.

And a spare car key.

These are the kinds of things people leave in their cars in my town of Annapolis. Their unlocked cars.

Since the first of the year, pricey items have been stolen from 56 unlocked cars — 27 in the last 30 days and up from 40 during the same period last year. A total of 288 unlocked cars were reported ransacked in 2012.

And those are just the ones the Annapolis police know about. How many other victims called their insurance companies instead of the police can't be known.

Lt. Mark Seidel and his fellow officers have taken to conducting benevolent sting operations: going to gyms and health clubs, where people often leave purses, briefcases and other gear in the car while they work out, counting the number of unlocked cars and asking the front desk to make an announcement.

During one such sweep, 17 cars were unlocked and had purses and other valuables in sight.

"Cars have locks for a reason," said Det. Amy Miguez, who prepares the daily police report for the media and the public. There are days when it is a list of half a dozen unlocked vehicles — from all parts of this compact city — that have had items removed.

My husband and I have lived in Annapolis for 30 years, but each night he trudges in from his car like Willie Loman carrying his sample cases. He is loaded down with his laptop, phone and camera. Plus a gym bag full of papers for his next sports story.

Me? I repeatedly click the lock button on my key fob like a person with OCD, making sure I actually heard the beep that means the doors are locked. And then making sure again.

Who are these people who not only leave their cars unlocked but leave valuables in plain sight?

And who is doing the stealing?

"It is good that crime has gone down in our city so much that people feel safe, like they live in a community where they don't have to lock their cars," said Detective Miguez. "But having someone take your things out of your car can make you feel violated. It is not a good feeling."

"People say to us, 'I've lived in Annapolis all my life, and I never lock my car,'" said Lieutenant Seidel, who appreciates the fact that people in his city feel safe. "That's rewarding on our end."

But, he said, if you lock your car, or remove all valuables from sight, a thief will have to test a lot more door handles, or shine a flashlight in a lot more car windows, and that makes it more likely that he will be caught.

Who is he? Probably an older male with an addiction who has recently been released from jail. They are looking for electronics they can sell easily for cash or trade for drugs.

"Sometimes we look to see which one, two or three people are out" of jail, said Detective Miguez.

In the summer, the profile of the thief changes a little. It can be teens looking for car stereos or sound systems they can have for themselves.

"This isn't just annoying," said Detective Miguez. "It is something that ties up every police department, not just Annapolis. And when citizens don't report it, we have no way to let people in the neighborhood know there is a problem."

"One person can wreak havoc in a community in a single night," said Lieutenant Seidel.

Oh — and the missing spare key?

That was taken from a 2008 Lexus RX350 SUV when it was left unlocked. The next day, the thief came back and stole the car.

Susan Reimer's columns appear on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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