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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Crime Prevention Begins with Deterring Unlawful Opportunists

*Appeared in the Beacon News on Sunday, July 26, 2009

I’m generally not one to blame the victim. In fact, I have a strong belief in responsibility and accountability when it comes to the choices people make in life. By that, I mean an open garage door should not entice a criminal to help himself to the property inside. Even when an opportunity for instant gratification presents itself, the human condition allows us the ability to reason and use restraint before engaging in destructive activity – be it criminal or otherwise.

When I see a wallet left behind in a shopping cart, my thought process instantaneously flashes to the owner of the wallet and the panic they must be feeling. Most of us think along the same lines. We may have a fleeting thought about the cash inside and may even momentarily have a dialogue within our own mind about how easy it would be to take the money and throw the wallet away. If our values are in tact, our moral compass finds its true north in a matter of moments and empathy for the owner of the wallet consumes us.

The same concept applies to unattended cars with the keys in the ignition or unlocked cars with a GPS on the dashboard. Most of us would walk right on by without a conscious thought of committing a theft. Despite the majority that would not commit a crime, there is a minority that thinks and acts upon the temptation. These small percentages of people are responsible for a large percentage of crime.

On the midnight shift, one of our goals is to alert Aurora residents to behaviors that may leave them vulnerable to victimization. Officers walk neighborhoods and apartment complexes and look for vehicles that have valuable items in plain view. When we find an easy crime target, we issue a Crime Prevention Notice (CPN) that details our observations and we place it in your mailbox. If you leave your garage door open, you will most likely be awakened by a police officer’s knock to remind you to secure your door. We have issued nearly 600 CPN’s in 2009 as a result of this initiative and our hope is that residents will develop a consciousness about what they leave in plain view.

While blaming the victim contradicts my original statement, I’m afraid I’ve become a bit jaded as a result of our Crime Prevention crusade. Officers report wallets and expensive electronic devices left in cup holders of vehicles visible to anyone in proximity. As if that weren’t enough, many of the vehicles are left unlocked. In the past two weeks, 42 vehicles were broken into throughout the city on midnight shift alone. Of those 42 vehicles, a whopping 29 were unlocked. I risk sounding politically incorrect or jaded but the first thought that comes to mind is, “What were you thinking?!” In an ideal world, my aforementioned speech about accountability and responsibility is just that – the ideal. If everyone’s moral compass were true north, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Because that is not the reality, I’m afraid I must proverbially shake some sense into those of you who believe that crime only happens to other people.

Crime is inevitable. Since the beginning of civilization, human beings have discovered that humans left to their own devices will struggle with temptation and some will succumb to it. Social norms and laws are put in place as deterrence. Despite this, there will always be people looking to prey on others. Don’t make it easy for them.