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Evansville police effort aims to prevent car break-ins with report cards

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GINA R. HEINE
October 11, 2010
— Sometimes it's hard to get over that small town, everything's safe mentality.

Evansville residents often think because they live in a small community that they can leave everything out in the front yard and it'll be there in the morning, police Lt. Jay Koehler said.


But police are trying to prevent vehicle thefts, one of the most common of small crimes, by alerting residents to the theft potential of leaving doors unlocked and windows opened.


The department in spring started writing a "report card" for parked cars, leaving a "passed" or "failed" note on windshields, usually overnight.


Walking through downtown Friday, Koehler pointed out obvious targets.


One unlocked car didn't have any valuables on display, but Koehler said thieves will even go for loose change.


"This one's unlocked. I could have that GPS out in a couple seconds," he said, pointing to another car.


Third-shift officers go down a block, look at each car and put a pass/fail report on the windshield as time permits. If a car fails it's because the vehicle had property in plain view, a door was unlocked or a window was open.


Officers do not open car doors, lock unlocked vehicles or secure property, Koehler said. Instead, they note the location and increase patrol.


Officers went through several neighborhoods right away writing the report cards. Usually cases increase in summer, but "we really didn't get the big rash of thefts," Koehler said.


A few have been reported, but not like past years, he said. He thinks the initiative had something to do with it because word spreads pretty quickly that officers are on the lookout.


It's usually kids who are responsible for break-ins, Koehler said. They usually don't break windows, but will try door handles, he said.


Digital cameras, iPods, GPS units and loose change are among the most common stolen items, he said.


Officers see those items sitting in plain view in unlocked cars "all the time," Koehler said. It's not uncommon to hear from victims who still don't lock up and are again victimized, he said.


The department logs about 100 car break-ins annually, he said.


"It's not a huge problem, but it's also a proactive way to deter it," he said.


Sometimes it's obvious when a car has been broken into—the door will be closed slightly but not latched in because the thief didn't want to slam the door and make noise, he said.


The department got the idea from Madison police, who have a similar program.


"(Chief) Scott (McElroy) was really pushing for it as a proactive measure to prevent vehicle break-ins," Koehler said.


And the feedback from the public? Nothing.


"I'm completely shocked, because it could go one of two extremes," Koehler said.


Either a resident would be thankful for police alerting him or her to the break-in potential, or someone could be upset about officers nosing around his or her car, he said.



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