Each year, one out of every 98 Californians has his/her vehicle stolen. In Mill Valley, there were 19 vehicle thefts in the year 2000, and that number increased to 24 in 2001. The number again rose for 2002, for a total of 25 stolen vehicles. But for Mill Valley residents, the bigger threat is vehicular burglary.
A vehicular burglary is a car being broken into, even when nothing is stolen. In 2002, Mill Valley had 30 vehicular burglaries. Although the amount stolen is not as high as that of residential or commercial burglaries, one must also factor in the cost of the vehicle's repair (shattered window, damage to locks and doors, etc.). In addition, items left in one's car such as financial information (bank and credit card statements, credit card receipts, etc.) or mail containing personal and financial information can sometimes lead to financial fraud and identity theft crimes.
Mill Valley is generally a safe, low-crime city in which to live, but criminals don't honor the boundaries of city limits. Don't be lulled into a complacent "it couldn't happen here" attitude, as vehicle burglaries and petty thefts from vehicles are fairly common crimes and, to a large extent, preventable.
As with all property crimes, if one can reduce opportunity, then one can reduce the chances of becoming a victim (and feeling like a character in the movie, Dude, Where's My Car?). The following tips are provided to help prevent vehicle theft and vehicular burglary wherever you travel.
Lock your car and take your keys when you get out, even at service stations and in front of your home. Over 30 percent of vehicle thefts occur because the keys are left in the ignition.
Put valuables in your trunk and out of sight. Don't attract a would-be thief by leaving valuables visible inside the car. If items are stolen from your unlocked vehicle, the crime is considered petty theft, not burglary - no matter the dollar amount of the stolen property.
Set your emergency brake when parking, even on level ground. This preventive measure will delay the thief and reduce the chance of your vehicle being pushed away.
Park in a garage when possible. Parking your car in a garage reduces the chance of your vehicle becoming a target.
Look inside, especially in the back seat, before entering your vehicle.
Be wary of strangers who offer help. If you have car trouble, stay in your car and ask them to call a service truck or the police.
Keep your car in good running condition. Make sure there is enough gas to get to and from your destination.
Keep the vehicle registration in your wallet or purse, not in your car.
Leave your keys with a parking attendant. Have the attendant park your car and return your keys. If you have to leave your keys, leave only the ignition key.
Leave a car in an unattended public parking lot for an extended period of time. A car is five times more likely to be stolen from an unattended lot than from the street or an attended lot.
Leave items containing your name and address visible in your car.
Attach a tag with your name and/or address to your key ring. The tag will lead the thief directly to your car and your home.
Hide a spare ignition key on or in your vehicle. A professional thief will always know where to look for one.
Pick up hitchhikers.
Open your door if a stranger approaches while you are in your car. Keep your windows up, your door locked, and the engine running. Remember, if necessary, honk your horn to attract attention.
Park in well-lighted areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. Thieves avoid witnesses.
Have your vehicle serviced only by reputable businesses. Avoid leaving keys with people you do not know or trust. Only leave your ignition key with the technician.
Be aware of high-theft vehicles. Contact your insurance company for a list of frequently stolen vehicles. Per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the top ten high-theft vehicles are: Mercedes S & SL, Acura Integra, Lexus GS, Mitsubishi Montero, Lincoln Navigator, Nissan Maxima, Lincoln Navigator, Volkswagen GTI, Toyota 4Runner, and Mitsubishi Diamante. For a complete list, go to the web site of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
If you purchase a used car, have the ignition switch changed. Thieves often sell cars and retain a set of keys to return and steal them back.
Engrave automobile stereo systems with your driver's license number before installation.
Use anti-theft devices. Quality anti-theft devices will deter most thieves and slow down even the professional thief. Theft losses decline by half when cars are equipped with immobilizing anti-theft devices, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute.
Consider the installing security devices, such as:
- Interior hood lock release
- Second ignition switch or "kill switch"
- Fuel switch to prevent fuel from reaching the carburetor
- Locking gas cap
- Locking devices for batteries, wheels, decks, etc.
- Device that attaches to the steering wheel or brake pedal
- Alarm device to activate a siren, horn or lights - or all three