Did you get your car stolen or burglarized in Signal Hill last year? You’re not alone.
In 2020, police calls to service for car theft increased 55% compared to the previous year, an increase from 103 in 2019 to 160 in 2020. A similar number of calls were made in 2018 when 155 residents reported their cars stolen.
The trend stands true for car burglaries as well, which increased by 29% in 2020 compared to the previous year. In 2020, 237 vehicles were burglarized, compared with 183 in 2019 and 216 in 2018.
So far this year, 62 cars have been burglarized.
Signal Hill Police Department Detective Andrew Lopez said that right now, car burglaries are a “huge thing” for the department.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that cars are at heightened risk. Lopez said that around 80% of the time vehicles are burglarized because they’re left unlocked.
“What these people will do is they’ll go around just pulling on door handles,” he said. “I call that a ‘scavenger hunt.’”
Thieves will look through the car for valuables, checking the glove box, under, and on top of the seats. He said that most don’t find anything of value and instead just take loose change and phone chargers to resell. At times, they’ll also take vehicle registration and insurance information.
Lopez theorized that these thieves are looking to get into identity fraud. He assured residents that, even if their registration or insurance information is stolen, “they can’t really do much with it.” There’s not enough information on these documents to successfully steal someone’s identity.
How to avoid car theft and burglary
“There’s kind of no rhyme or reason to the vehicles that are being stolen,” he said, noting that many older vehicles and trucks are stolen more frequently.
In older vehicles, car thieves are able to manipulate the keys or use hot wires to jumpstart the car.
The best way to avoid vehicle theft, Lopez said, is to park your car in a well-lit area, ideally somewhere with cameras.
Lopez said that burglaries, on the other hand, are easier to deter.
“What I tell people is just, it’s been around for years,” he said. “Just don’t leave anything inside [your vehicle].”
If you keep valuables like electronics or purses in your vehicle, make sure to keep them out of sight. Even if the windows are up and the doors are locked, vehicles are not impenetrable.
“We call those ‘crimes of opportunity,’” he said. “If someone walks by and there’s a tablet or something of that nature, some high dollar item like a purse that you can get some value out of, that person is going to be more likely to [break in].”
At times, perpetrators will leave high-priced items if they can’t identify their value.
“I’ve had a lady that worked for Apple. They were just releasing some huge Bluetooth speaker, a surround sound system,” he said. “It was $10,000 and she had it in her trunk.”
The burglar only got away with a pair of roller skates and about $5 in spare change.
Even if burglars don’t get away with any valuables, Lopez acknowledged that the experience can still be traumatizing.
“It still feels terrible because you’re like ‘Someone was in my space, my area, my property,’” he said.
His top tips for preventing car burglaries—don’t leave anything valuable in your car, don’t leave anything valuable in plain sight and double-check that your door is locked before you leave your vehicle.