Theft from auto: a plague in our neighborhood, the most common crime here, and the most difficult to do anything about
You see it all the time: the smashed window, the puddle of glass on the ground, and somebody's car burglarized. It is simply too easy a crime to commit, too easily gotten away with. Youths from the poverty neighborhoods nearby roam the streets in search of cars with visible contents that can be sold on the street.

As can be seen from this chart, displaying the number of thefts from auto per month since 2002, it's been worse. We still average about 10 such thefts every month. There may be more; people sometimes don't bother reporting these attacks. Everyone knows that the guys who did it will never be found.

Victims quite naturally expect the police to "do something" about this problem. But what? An automobile smash-and-grab takes only seconds, so the youths doing this simply wait until no one is in sight to do their thing. Then they're gone, and that's that. Forget fingerprints and other such forensics; even if these techniques were effective, the MPD isn't going to invest resources in such a minor crime. Fingerprints work only on television. In reality, few clear prints can be found, and there's no effective means of matching crime-scene prints to prints on file.

It's gotten so bad that the police sometimes merely take reports over the phone, not even visiting the scene. That's a recognition of the reality that these crimes are not solved after the fact. Nor can perpetrators be caught in the act, because they're rarely dumb enough to do this under watchful eyes. It takes, basically, a lucky break, a bit of "snitching", to nab these thieves.
bar chart, theft from auto, Mt Pleasant
Theft from auto is one category in which Mount Pleasant matches neighborhoods with generally higher crime rates. Columbia Heights, PSA 302, has twice or more the violent crime -- robberies, assaults -- as Mount Pleasant. But Mount Pleasant has just as many automobile break-ins as does Columbia Heights (reported, anyway). I theorize that the youths who do this know that they're more likely to find stealable goods in cars here than in the lower-income neighborhoods of Columbia Heights.

That said, the rate here is lower than the average in 3D, and much lower than in Cardozo/Shaw (PSA 305). As troublesome as this crime is here, it's worse, much worse, in other neighborhoods.

Yes, my car's been broken into, and so has Emily's, even though I'm careful to put both cars in our garage overnight.

The best defense is to do what the police tell us, all the time: never leave anything of value visible in your car. I've seen reports of car break-ins for cigarettes, or for a jacket. These theft-from-auto cretins think nothing of doing a hundred dollars' worth of damage to your car to steal something that they might sell for ten bucks.

bar chart, theft from auto, 3D
Of course it shouldn't be this way, and we've all been raised never to steal anything, so it's natural to be furious at kids who do, and who feel not the slightest pang of guilt or remorse. In certain parts of the inner city, there is a culture of alienation, a cult of victimhood, that promotes an attitude that theft is okay, even something to boast about. That's the problem that must be solved in order to put a stop to this pestilence of automobile break-ins.

I've noted elsewhere that robberies are concentrated on the "east end" of Mount Pleasant, almost all occurring between 16th and 17th Streets. The distribution of thefts from auto is very different. There's a moderate concentration in the Brown Street/Oak Street area, perhaps because that portion of Mount Pleasant is a bit cut off from the rest. Other than that, automobile break-ins happen almost anywhere.

This shows the locations of automobile break-ins in the first five months of 2006.

map of thefts from auto, Mt Pleasant
return to home This page last updated May 27, 2006