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July 1, 2009 > Keep your car safe

Keep your car safe

By Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

Milpitas takes pride in the fact that it has one of the lowest crime rates in the area and is determined to keep it that way. The city uses a proactive approach by taking a cue from the words of Benjamin Franklin, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

The Milpitas Police Department (MPD) offers various tips to keep the city's 65,000 residents from becoming victims. "Crime Prevention & Safety" on the MPD website focuses on one of the most prevalent, yet preventable, forms of crime - automotive theft.

Minimizing the number of cars stolen within its 13.63 square mile jurisdiction is an ongoing effort, says Lieutenant Henry Kwong of the department's traffic safety division. Over the past 10 years, car thefts in Milpitas have steadily increased from 174 auto thefts in 1999 to a record high of 299 in 2004. To ensure that auto theft statistics decline in 2009, officers are spotting and alerting citizens of potential targets.

While any vehicle with a four wheels and a working engine could be considered a potential "target," the four most common vehicles stolen in Milpitas are the Acura Integra (1991-1995), Honda's Accord (1993-1998) and Civic (1987-1991) and a felon favorite - the Toyota Camry (1987-1991). However, it is usually not the car itself or even its contents that pique a thief's interest, but rather what the vehicle lacks.

Most stolen cars in Milpitas (and presumably nationwide) were all missing one key element - the driver.

A significant portion of pilfered auto incidents within the city (and subsequently Santa Clara County) occur during cold winter months when car owners warm up their vehicles before leaving the house. It is during these crucial minutes, when the owner is absent, that a thief accepts this open invitation to steal - unlocked doors, keys in ignition and blasting heater.

Although we are now entering into summer and cold winter mornings are behind us, some individuals use the same method to cool the car, turning on the air conditioner a few minutes prior to sitting in the driver's seat.

In addition to warning residents about leaving a vehicle when the engine is running, the Milpitas Police Department's "Auto Theft Prevention" tips advise residents to always lock their car doors and never leave keys in the ignition.

Guidelines warn against keeping an extra set of keys in or on your vehicle. The list also reiterates warning signs at parking lots and public garages that caution vehicle owners to "Keep all valuables and packages out of sight!"

Where your car is located can also be a factor. Drivers should park in well-lit areas and familiar surroundings. If the option is available, it is worth the couple extra dollars to park in attended lots as opposed to taking your chances on a side street. And one basic, yet often overlooked option - if you have a garage, use it!

Like many law enforcements agencies across the country and around the world, the Milpitas Police Department encourages the use of anti-theft systems and other deterrent options to keep thieves out of your driver's seat. Alarms, starter disablers, motion sensors, remote control activation, panic buttons and shock detectors on doors, windows or trunk lids have all proven effective and many are reasonably priced. Steering wheel locks not only prevent the wheel from being turned more then a few degrees they are visible from outside the vehicle, often enough to ward off would-be thieves.

An inexpensive fuel or "kill" switch can sever the vehicle's fuel supply or electrical current making it impossible to start. Be sure to check if your vehicle's warranty is affected before installing this particular device.

Even with all these mechanisms in place, a car thief may still be successful but a Vehicle Tracking System (hidden transmitter) will allow the stolen vehicle to be tracked and recovered by police.

Although innumerable devices are available on the market, every car owner should be aware of a basic security code that comes with every automobile produced - your vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN is etched on the windows and/or major parts of an automobile making them easier to trace.

By posting "Auto Theft Prevention" tips on the city's website, the Milpitas Police Department hopes to educate the public about vehicle safety and, in turn, continue to maintain their low-crime rate. Officers are also looking for vehicles that present a potential target to auto thieves. A notice is left on the car alerting the owner that their auto is at risk of becoming another stolen car statistic.

Visit the Milpitas Police Department's "Auto Theft Prevention" tips, online at http://www.ci.milpitas.ca.gov/government/police/safety_auto_theft.asp,

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