EVERETT — In a matter of seconds, the window shattered and everything inside the car was up for grabs including a purse, a garage door opener and enough personal information to steal the owner’s identity.
"It’s just that easy. They’re in. They’re out," Everett Crime Prevention officer Steve Paxton said Monday.
Paxton, along with other members of the Crime Prevention Alliance of Snohomish County, demonstrated just how easy it is to break into a car.
They broke windows quietly and quickly with the simplest of tools.
"These guys are very opportunistic. They use everyday objects, find a target, hit it and move on," Paxton said after breaking out a window with a pebble.
Car prowls and thefts have been steadily rising throughout the county. Last year, in Everett alone, nearly 1,700 cars were stolen. That’s up 150 percent since 1995.
"The majority of calls we get are for vehicle prowls and thefts," Everett Sgt. Dan Templeman said.
Police see spikes in vehicle crimes during November and December when holiday shoppers leave packages inside their cars. Also, car thieves take advantage of cold weather when people leave cars idling outside their homes, Paxton said.
Vehicle crimes are of growing concern to police as they often facilitate other crimes.
"It definitely spider-webs into other types of crimes," Everett Detective Ryan Dahlberg said.
Drug addicts will break into a car to steal whatever they can to pawn off to buy drugs. Personal documents left in a car can make it easier for thieves to steal someone’s identity, another crime on the rise. And police pursuits often involve stolen vehicles.
"A property crime can turn into a potentially violent crime," Paxton said.
But common sense and a few simple tips can combat thefts and prowls, he said.
The alliance, made up of crime prevention specialists from different police departments, recently surveyed 844 drivers outside malls, theaters, schools and hospitals around the county during a five-day period. About 10 percent of the vehicles weren’t even locked and a majority had valuables in plain view.
The top five items left out were clothes, bags, compact discs, cell phones and electronics. Police even spotted a television and computer sitting out.
"These are easy things for the crooks to liquidate," Paxton said. "It wasn’t a big surprise what we found. Clearly it’s an issue that people are not taking seriously."
The best thing people can do is remove valuables from their vehicles, he said. Without an incentive in plain view, the crook is going to move on.
"Crooks get emboldened when they’ve been successful," Paxton said. "We need the community’s help to try to get this under control. The police can’t do it alone."
Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or email@example.com.