Morinville – In the middle of the night he looks up the road at his row of potential targets, 10 cars parked on the street, vehicles illuminated only by the overhead lights. His experience tells him at least two of the vehicles will be unlocked, and both of those are likely to contain items of varying value: change in the coin tray, a GPS unit on the dashboard, wallets and identification in the console. They are all his for the taking.
He hits three door handles without hearing a latch engage, but the forth opens, removing the barrier between him and the precious valuables that are but an arm’s reach away. He takes nothing and leaves only a photocopied brochure, a nocturnal notice that a less honest man would receive rather than give.
Constable Justin St. Onge of the Morinville RCMP Detachment recently undertook a project to see if residents were making themselves easy targets for local and visiting criminals. St. Onge and another detachment member took to 10 Morinville neighbourhoods between 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. one morning, checking for unlocked doors on vehicles parked on the streets. St. Onge did not enter residents’ driveways, merely checked vehicles parked on the street and in parking lots.
In 90 minutes St. Onge checked 208 vehicles. Thirty-two of those were found to be unlocked. “I was able to access 32 vehicles and left a pamphlet for them,” Const. St. Onge said. “That’s just over 15 per cent. I thought that number is not enough to catch people’s attention, but what’s more important is 32 vehicles [were opened] over 90 minutes. Every three minutes we would have been in a vehicle. That would have been the easiest night of work in my life. In an hour and a half we were able to be in 32 vehicles and all of them had stuff in them. I’d see a GPS on the dash. I’d see change in the cup holder before I even got up to the door.
With many valuables left in open sight: addressed mail, luggage, expensive sunglasses, money, and even valuable electronic equipment, St. Onge was left disappointed people do not take greater efforts to lock up their valuables.
Some neighbourhoods more cautious than others
While the experiment resulted in more than 15 per cent of vehicles being found unlocked, the results varied from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. St. Onge found all cars locked in one area but 80 per cent of the vehicles were left unlocked in another.
Perhaps most troubling was finding a vehicle unlocked with a garage door opener in full sight. “Now just by leaving your vehicle unlocked people have access to your house,” St. Onge said. “The gravity of that crime is a lot more of an intrusion. To break into someone’s house is a huge violation and you are leaving access to your house inside your unlocked vehicles.”
During St. Onge’s nocturnal policing experiment he even set off a car alarm in one neighbourhood but found no one came to see what was happening. “I waited and waited,” he said, adding he planned to offer the vehicle owner an explanation as to what was happening. “No one came to the window. No one came out of the houses. The alarm just continued to go off so I just eventually left, copied down the license plate number, and expected a complaint. Nothing.”
St. Onge said he found it interesting that in a subdivision with high-end homes no one got out of bed. “I think these days a car alarm is just another noise we hear,” he said. “No one thinks that car alarm is an indicator of a crime being committed. Not that we’re asking people to rush out because that’s not a good thing either. I was at least expecting to see a neighbor come to the window or a light go on.”
Prior to taking on the recent policing project St. Onge ran the numbers to see if vehicle break-ins are an issue in Morinville. In 2012 there were 106 vehicle theft files opened. Forty of those occurred in Morinville, half of those were in the summer months of June through August. Only two of the 40 cases were cleared by charge.
For the RCMP it is a preventable crime that really is as simple as locking vehicle doors and removing valuables. “People think because they live in a small town that it is safe, but it’s not.” St. Onge said. “There are criminals that live here, and there are criminals that are happy to come here.”