Mary Beth Jorgensen learned the hard way that theft can occur anywhere. Even in church.
On June 26 people started arriving for Sunday service in the large Coeur d’Alene church Jorgensen attends. Jorgensen, who usually sings in the church’s choir, was instead filling in for the organist. A bit nervous for her upcoming performance, Jorgensen left her purse on a receptionist’s desk outside of where the service was to take place.
“It wasn’t quite my normal routine and I was thinking about other stuff,” she said.
An hour later, when the service ended, Jorgensen came out to find her purse missing, along with her wallet, keys, cellphone, credit card and makeup, worth a total of $750. She also lost some irreplaceable family photos from her childhood.
Jorgensen filed a police report and spent the next week calling her banks, canceling her cards and checking to see whether they had been used. She had to get a new driver’s license, get new locks on her house and get new keys made for her cars.
“I just feel stupid,” she said. “I keep saying, ‘I knew better, I knew better.’ ”
As Jorgensen discovered, theft can occur anywhere, at any time, to anyone. Deputy Travis Pendell, a crime-prevention specialist with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department, has a few tips to help people avoid becoming what he calls “participant victims.”
Pendell said most thieves are not predators, but are opportunists waiting for victims to let down their guard.
“You just need to make your place, your vehicle, your property look a little more high risk,” he said. “Like there’s little greater chance that the bad guy is going to get caught if he tries to get your stuff. So what the bad guy will do is he’ll go next door or he’ll go to the next neighborhood, and that’s good for you.”
Neighborhoods that are well kept and well lit are less likely to be subject to vehicle prowling and burglaries.
“Dark places are typically where the crimes occur,” he said. “In places where it looks like nobody’s paying attention, there are just more opportunities.”
He suggests setting up neighborhood block watches and getting to know neighbors. Light driveways and porches at night. Motion detectors or timed lights ensure lights will automatically come on at night and won’t waste electricity during the day. Also, homeowners should always lock the door, whether they’re home or not, and have a friend or neighbor check on the house daily when out of town, he said.
Crimes are more likely to occur in places where criminals know the victim is going to be gone for an extended period of time.
“It is vehicle prowls in the holiday season,” he said. “The malls get slammed with vehicle prowls. Anyplace – theaters, malls, fitness centers – where they know that you’re going to be gone for 30 to 45 minutes. In the warmer seasons, trailheads, ball fields, anyplace where people gather and where the parking lot might not be visible.”
Keep valuables locked up in the trunk, he said, and cars should always be parked in the garage if possible.
“Have a garage sale,” he said. “Empty all the stuff in the garage and then park your car in it. That will keep you from becoming a victim of vehicle prowling, which is about the most prolific property crime we have.”
Most property crimes are not solved, he said, but victims can increase the chance of getting their belongings back and assist police in catching the thief by taking a few simple steps.
Write down and file away serial numbers of all electronics, and engrave the owner’s driver’s license number in a discreet spot. Pawn shops take down the driver’s license number of everyone who pawns something, and if an item is engraved with a number that doesn’t match, pawn shop operators are less likely to accept it. If they do, it makes it much easier for police to find the item at a pawn shop once the victim files a police report.
“The system is served better if people would just identify their property,” he said. “If your property is already marked it will be easier to identify.”
If a victim does happen to catch a thief in the act, Pendell said, the victim should just let them go to prevent the crime from turning violent.
“Don’t confront them,” he said. “Don’t block their exit. Always leave them a way out. There’s too much risk.”
Instead, Pendell said, the victim should get a good description of the criminal, note the criminal’s last known direction of travel and call police immediately.
“Let your property go,” he said. “Be a good witness.”