Police say punched-out locks tough to stop
by Staff Writer
But when even locking your car door isn’t enough, the level of concern rises.
The Huntersville Police Department’s monthly crime bulletin reported 31 car break-ins in August. Thirteen were categorized as forced entry.
Deputy Chief Michael Kee said a primary form of forced entry was having a car’s lock punched out.
“It’s become a common way to break into someone’s car,” Kee said. “Historically, unforced entry is the biggest and easiest way (for theft). People just leave their car doors unlocked. They’ll have them opened and have things taken out of them.”
But what can people do when they keep their car doors unlocked and thieves still target them?
“The best thing you can do is to make yourself as unappealing a target as possible. Keep your valuables hidden in the trunk or don’t even keep things of value in your car,” Kee said. “If you don’t do that, it’s less likely to happen to you.”
The number of car break-ins in Huntersville rose 63 percent last month compared to August 2011. Kee partially attributed the rise of thefts to the economy.
“The economy is a direct correlation to it. Some people are out of work and they want to target others,” he said.
Huntersville police have increased its visibility around the area to curb vehicle break-ins. Though, lock-punching – when someone forcibly pushes in a car’s lock so it gets knocked back into the car – is tough to detect. It’s been a known crime for years, but has become more prevalent recently.
Lock-punching became a popular form of breaking into a car because of the lack of trace it leaves. There’s no broken window or immediate sign of forced entry until someone returns to their car and can visibly see the changes in the lock.
“We’re certainly finding ways” to help prevent break-ins, both unforced and forced, Kee said. “Each of our patrol units are trying to find ways to combat this. We’re rolling patrol cars through busy parking lots, like the (Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics center on Verhoeff Drive), where one was reported. They’re usually occurring at commercial and large business parking lots.”
Kee said hammers and screwdrivers are the most common weapons for perpetrators to gain entry into locked vehicles.
Mooresville Police Department Major Ron Chilton echoed Kee’s concerns. Chilton said he didn’t know of a case having been reported in Mooresville, but the increased frequency of occurrences nearby has his department paying attention to citizens’ cars and parking lots.
“We had a case of a car break-in that resulted in a chase. The perpetrator was apprehended afterward,” he said. “We’re always on the lookout for that kind of activity. It’s something that tends to happen, but we’re working on keeping it from happening.”
Chilton said he heard of thieves using small, sharp objects – not always hammers or screwdrivers – to punch car locks. He said the number of lock punch-outs has risen, but it’s a tough job for a thief to pull off with regularity.
“It takes a lot of force (to knock a lock in),” Chilton said. “You pull or punch the lock depending on the tool used, and it breaks the lock mechanism, pushes it out and lets you open the door. But by the time it can happen, sometimes people can see it.”
Unfortunately, a solution other than removing or hiding valuable items hasn’t yet been found to keep lake area residents from being victimized.
“If the intent is there (to break in a car), the only way to stop them will be for them to change their intent,” Chilton said.
Kee said the crimes in Huntersville happened in different places throughout town. Unforced entries, always the more common crime, happen in different settings as well. But 52 percent of unforced entry car break-ins occurred in residential areas, Kee said.
“We’ve seen (punched-out locks) more frequently in large parking lots like at HFFA, but they can happen anywhere as well,” Kee said. “We try to be as visible as we possibly can.”
What can you do to avoid getting your car door lock punched?
The Huntersville and Mooresville Police departments suggest the easiest way to prevent theft is to hide your valuables from open sight. If possible, keep them out of the car altogether. Don’t park in large lots by yourself if possible. The key is to avoid being a target.