It is truly a blessing to live, work and raise a family in Columbia County. We enjoy an outstanding quality of life, a very low fear of crime, an excellent school system, a growing tax base and one of the lowest crime rates in the nation.
Because of all of these amenities of life in Columbia County, we tend to let our guard down when it comes to certain types of crime.
Since I was first elected sheriff in April of 1995, overall crime has decreased more than 25 percent, while our population has increased over 25 percent. In spite of our low crime rate, we still have certain crimes which are higher than any of us would like.
One of those crimes is known as Entering an Auto. Simply put, when someone unlawfully enters or breaks into your vehicle with the intent to steal something, this crime has occurred. It is also one of the crimes where you can do several things to make it more difficult for the criminal.
We recently conducted an analysis of Entering Autos which had occurred between Jan. 1 and May 5. Of those 132 reported incidents, 48 percent of the vehicles were left unlocked. Another 42 percent of the victims left valuables in plain view. I'm not talking about obscure items left out in the open, either. Some of the items stolen include cell phones, purses, wallets, money, laptop computers and expensive clothing.
Please understand that I'm not engaging in "blame the victim." I do believe, however, that we can take steps to help make it more difficult for the bad guys.
Every police officer and deputy sheriff takes a block of instruction in the academy known as "Patrol and Observation." Within that block, they are introduced to the same concepts I want to introduce to you today: Opportunity Reduction and Target Hardening. Simply put, through these two tactics, we make it more difficult for someone to victimize you.
For example, the business owner will keep his windows and doors clear of obstructions so that we, the law enforcement officers, are able to see clearly inside the business. We put locks on our doors and use them at night and when we are away as a means of reducing the opportunity for theft and burglary. All I'm asking you to do is to use the same tactics when it comes to your vehicles.
Lock your vehicles every time you get out. Don't leave anything of value out in plain view. These criminals are simply walking neighborhoods and businesses, usually in the evening hours, and pulling on door handles. When the door opens, they simply grab what they can put their hands on and then they're gone - all within a few seconds. Or they see a wallet, purse or computer laying in plain view. Most of the time, the doors are unlocked. If they are locked, they simply smash the easiest window, remove the item and they're gone - also within a few seconds.
If you will simply lock your vehicles and remove anything of value from plain sight, you will drastically reduce your chances of becoming a victim of this crime.
Clay Whittle is sheriff of Columbia County.
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