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In a matter of hours, the car prowl had spawned at least two more crimes, which Pregman spent much of his shift chasing down and writing reports for. The thieves visited a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and used the stolen credit card to purchase $121 in chicken. They apparently also fueled their vehicle, drove across town to a tobacco store, purchased a $79 hookah and $63 in Newport cigarettes before the victim was able to deactivate his credit card.
A veteran patrol officer who has conducted car prowl-surveillance operations in some of the hardest hit parts of the city, Pregman said the city’s vehicle burglars come from all walks of life and are of all ages. Some case out their targets in advance or work in pairs — one waiting nearby in a getaway vehicle while the other burglarizes the target vehicle; other break-ins are simply crimes of impulse and opportunity.
About the story
This story is the first in a series of occasional stories in which The Salt Lake Tribune will examine crime across the Salt Lake Valley through the lens of mapping.
The data used for Tribune analysis consist of crimes reported by the public that have been verified and handled by the Salt Lake City Police Department. The Tribune analyzed crime in Salt Lake City neighborhoods as defined by community council-district boundaries.
Protect yourself from a car burglary
Don’t leave anything of value inside.
Remove stereo faceplates.
Hide any cables (like for an iPod, GPS, MP3, etc.).
Don’t leave empty boxes inside.
Park in well-lit areas.
If possible park near a surveillance camera.
Park in areas where lots of people come and go.
If you see something suspicious, report it to police.
Record serial numbers of any valuable items to increase chances of getting items back
What businesses can do to protect customers
Place plenty of no-trespassing signs around your property.
Install security cameras — do not put up fakes ones.
Work with local police departments to help enforce no trespassing on property.
"It is a tough crime to resolve," McGowan said. "They’re there at the vehicle, oftentimes just for 30 seconds, and they’re gone. We encourage people to make themselves hard targets. These type of people essentially try to take the easy route."
Pregman said criminals are creatures of habit; if they successfully break into multiple cars in one location without getting caught, they’re likely to return.
Chugg, the club manager, said he suspects the same person was responsible for all the break-ins along 100 South because a few months ago, they abruptly stopped. He suspects the person responsible is behind bars.
Police and city officials encourage people to report any vehicle break-ins to police because even if the thief isn’t caught, authorities use the reports to determine how to allocate resources, conduct surveillance operations and reunite victims with property. City advocates and planners said they use information to advocate changes: Suggesting more street lighting, promoting public-awareness campaigns or recommending that hard-hit private parking lots add fencing to deter people from cutting across the lot.
McGowan said police aren’t making any special efforts to reduce car prowls in hard-hit areas, relying instead on resources already in place and on the public for help watching out for each other.
Art Raymond, spokesman for the Salt Lake City’s mayor’s office, said the city bases the locations of streetlights on the amount of traffic, not the amount of crime.
"They’re not a crime-prevention tool," he said. "Streetlights are definitely about public safety on the roadways. It’s based on traffic safety."
He said there are areas of the city that have subsidized their own street lighting projects, and city leaders allow all neighborhoods and businesses to do the same. He acknowledged parts of the city that contain unmaintained, undeveloped properties probably wouldn’t be able to create lighting districts.
Raymond said city leaders promote public awareness about reducing the chances of being victimized.
One neighborhood that has made an effort at reducing car prowls is Bonneville Hills, a small community tucked away in the eastern part of the city. In 2011, only 13 car prowls were reported there, making that community the safest place to park.
"We’re a very proactive neighborhood [with] other people watching out for their neighbors and watching out for traffic in our area," said Ellen Reddick, chairwoman of the Bonneville Hills Community Council.
She said the neighborhood works closely with its police liaison officer.
"He’s been a great catalyst in helping us raise awareness," Reddick said.
Nearly all homes have now installed motion sensor lights. All shrubs are trimmed back so people can walk on the sidewalks and have no reason to loiter in the streets. Residents have also made it hard for people to cut through backyards, and community leaders have encouraged people to call police if they see anything at all that appears out of place.
"We’ve really taken [being proactive] to heart and been really vigilant in looking out for each other," she said.
Tony Semerad and Scott Sherman contributed to this report.
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