By Polly Keary, Editor
Joe Spark hasn’t been a police officer for long, and he’s been on the Monroe force less than a year, but already he knows one thing about the town; there’s a lot of avoidable property crime.
Spark graduated from the criminal justice academy Jan. 31 and has been on solo patrol in Monroe since April.
In order to complete his training, he was required to devise a community project involving the community in an effort to combat crime.
Having spent many 12-hour stretches driving Monroe’s streets, Spark knew the problem he wanted to address, and last week he demonstrated the issue on a map of the city showing the locations of recent property crimes.
Property crimes common
“You can tell from the maps that we have experienced a great number of vehicle prowls; burglaries, both residential and commercial and motor vehicle theft,” he said.
In July, there were 15 car prowls reported, 11 in August and 10 in September. July also saw eight vehicle thefts, as did August, and there were four reported in September.
And there were three residential burglaries in July, soaring to eight in August and nine in September.
As Spark looked at the data, he noticed some trends.
Most of the prowls took place in the downtown and in the Fryelands. But that’s not all they had in common.
“No one locks their car anymore,” said Spark. “And the people who didn’t lock their cars tended to leave stuff that was easy to grab, and it became apparent that a lot of people don’t think about these things.”
Some people chose to leave cars unlocked in order to avoid having windows smashed by would-be thieves, but it’s important to make sure there aren’t tempting and portable items in the car, said Spark.
Monroe Police Department Spokesperson Deb Willis agreed.
“I think that, until you are a victim, you don’t understand how often this is happening,” she said. “We have people wandering parking lots looking for valuables that can be sold or pawned.”
One thing people tend to leave in the car is tech gadgetry, she went on, quite frequently GPS units that thieves can easily swipe and sell for $5-$10 on the street.
“Those are like a beacon to guys running around at night trying door handles,” said Spark.
“My overall hope is to get community awareness to a growing issue,” said Spark.
One way he hopes to empower residents is by sharing what he learned about property crime.
For one thing, old town Monroe and the business district is hit the hardest, along with the Fryelands area. Of the 11 prowls in August, 10 took place either near the downtown or in the business parking lots on the north side of U.S. 2.
When the time of the prowl was known, it typically was in evening or late night, and nearly all of them involved cars that had been left unlocked or with windows partly down and valuables visible in the car.
Of the cars stolen, one thing that struck Spark was how many of them were Hondas.
“Almost half in each month were Honda or Honda and Acura combined,” he said. He chalks that up to their popularity, some issues with earlier models that make them easy to break into, and their desirability for street racing.
The easiest way to protect yourself from prowls is to take everything of value out of the car before leaving it.
Park under streetlights, and resist the temptation to leave your purse and just take in a wallet or card to the store.
At home, consider leaving an exterior light on all night near your car, or installing a motion detector light.
And avoid parking with foliage or trees between your car and the house.
To avoid burglaries, secure sliding doors and windows. Keep shrubs trimmed back near the house. Don’t leave a spare key someplace obvious, like under a rock by the door or under the mat.
Signs warning that there is a dog or an alarm system on the house have been shown to be effective deterrents.
If you’re going away on a trip, let your neighbors know who, if anyone, is authorized to enter your home, and ask them to call police if they see anything out of the ordinary.
Consider installing a burglar alarm, and check to see if your homeowner’s insurance might then give you a break on your rates, which might help you recoup some of the cost.
And above all, if something doesn’t seem right, call the police, said Spark.
“One thing I hear people say is that they don’t want to bother us calling in something suspicious, but I always tell people not to hesitate,” he said. “If people call, we can go and look and hopefully cut down on some of this crime.”