Theft unlocked: As auto burglaries increase, officers use data to guide policing

Theft unlocked: As auto burglaries increase, officers use data to guide policing

Hear from police chief Anthony Cobb Tuesday at 10 on WDWS.

While the occasional shooting or bank robbery grab bigger headlines, less publicized are the almost daily victims of vehicle burglary in Champaign County.

Two weeks ago, cars belonging to Liz Brunson and her husband became part of the average 1.7 vehicle burglaries that have happened each day in Champaign during the first seven months of this year. In Urbana, that number averaged 0.6 per day.

"It's totally an epidemic," said Brunson, who confessed to being "careless" and leaving her car unlocked. So did her husband.

But the cars were in their own driveway, on a quiet street with little traffic in south Champaign.

Her visiting children, home for their grandfather's funeral, had both locked their cars in the driveway and escaped becoming victims.

The estimated loss from both cars was $10 in change. But it also cost them peace of mind.

"That very day, I went to Best Buy and bought a camera that is stuck on the front of my garage. I get a text every time somebody walks in my driveway. They better not come back," she said, then had another thought.

"Actually, I wish they would come back, so I could bust them," Brunson said.

Her experience is fairly typical of what Champaign and Urbana police see — cars left unlocked and items small enough to be stuffed in the burglar's pocket taken.

"We do not see a lot of motor vehicle burglaries with forced entry," said Champaign police Lt. Dave Shaffer.

The Brunsons were fortunate to lose only a few bucks. Those who have had wallets or purses taken may find themselves in for much bigger problems.

"There are several pieces of material inside your car, bag or briefcase with personal identifying information on it. With identity theft, people can use that to open accounts, purchase property," Shaffer said. "We see everything from cable television and utilities accounts opened to large purchases of merchandise made in someone else's name fraudulently."

For Champaign, the number of car burglaries in 2017 through the end of July was 368, up from 317 during that same time period last year.

In Urbana, car burglaries were down quite a bit, from 207 in the first seven months of 2016 to 131 between January and July 2017. Police there note that most of those break-ins happened between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The increase in Champaign's property crime over the last couple years has not gone unnoticed by police department administrators or the city council, which recently approved a budget increase for police to address the issue.

The spike, unfortunately, happened about the same time as an inordinate number of shootings and murders, which had to take priority, Shaffer said.

"I'm in the process of adding another detective. We will run a pilot unit ... with a total of four (detectives) focusing on property crimes," Shaffer said of the group that is supposed to be functional by Oct. 1.

Patrol officers are also stepping up efforts in neighborhoods where there are residential or vehicle burglaries.

In addition to "Intelligence Led Policing" — using the crime data to focus on problem areas — the officers are canvassing neighborhoods where a house or a car has been entered to find out what residents might have seen or know and in turn, let them know what the police know.

Officers also use the in-person contacts to remind citizens of common-sense ways to keep their property secure.

Brunson is mindful that police can't be everywhere at all times. And she lamented that "my little watchdog slept through the entire thing."

But she's also a fan of Facebook and the group "Spotted in Chambana," whose members frequently post about stolen cars and break-ins.

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Bystander wrote on August 07, 2017 at 7:08 am
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Criminals are emboldened to engage in this type of crime because they know it's probation if they get caught. A study in the number of vehicle burglary cases that were sentenced to probation would explain why vehicle burglary is an easy get out of jail case to beat.  

CommonSenseless wrote on August 07, 2017 at 10:08 am

Also factor in the low rent housing units going up all over town and the CUMTD transporting criminals to all corners.  Crime stats are better when they are distributed makes it harder to point out the specific cause.

Champaignite wrote on August 07, 2017 at 11:08 am

Wait a minute.  I want to make sure I undertand this correctly.  You think that criminals are taking the MTD buses to burglarize cars in the middle of the night?  Or, are you suggesting that the MTD allows people to leave their neighborhoods to go to other neighborhoods  so they can check out which cars might be unlocked later that night to go burglarize?  

CommonSenseless wrote on August 07, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I wasn't being that specific.  Only that public transit can be a vector for property crimes.  Most of these crimes are about opportunity.  The neighborhoods in SW Champaign are now more accessible to non-residents of the neighborhood, therefore it is only logical that increased access would provide increased criminal opportunity.  Furthermore, inserting low income and subsidized housing units provides more people closer to the criminal end of the equation in Becker's theory.


pcdc331 wrote on August 07, 2017 at 4:08 pm

If people would just clean out the garage and quit putting junk in their there would be room to park there cars inside. wrote on August 07, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Exactly.  You have to rack up nearly 100 car burglaries to get even a few months in jail.  Most of these are being done by teenagers, so the fact of the matter is, nothing will be done.

rsp wrote on August 07, 2017 at 9:08 pm

This is hilarious. It's because of low income housing? The usual blame-everything-on-the-mtd? It's profitable! People still leave valuables out in the open with the car doors unlocked. I know people who leave the keys in the car all the time, think nothing of it.

Ask the police departments how many calls they get about someone seen in parking lots or garages going from car to car looking for the easy pickings.

"We do not see a lot of motor vehicle burglaries with forced entry," said Champaign police Lt. Dave Shaffer.

CallSaul wrote on August 08, 2017 at 12:08 am

Just more of the usual sputtering dogwhistles.

Did you really expect anything different...?


CommonSenseless wrote on August 08, 2017 at 8:08 am

RSP, I won't lump you in with Saul as I believe you actually can have dialog without ad hominem.  What I do notice, though, is you rely heavily on anecdotal evidence.  As you can see above in my post, there is a link.  A link to a study regarding crime and public transportation.  


You are right, crime can be profitable.  If you would have checked the link you would see this in equation form as it references a study by Becker in the 60s.  The risk-reward paradigm put forth by Becker explains a lot of this.  Given the low risk of punishment, combined with low effort of gain increases probability of crime.  The MTD provides access and egress.  Of course, if your thoughts are already prejudiced, there is no point in arguing with you.


And in your own words, "looking for easy pickings" is at the foundation of most of our issues today.  The youth in lower economic levels are taught that other people are to blame for their parents predicament, stealing is ok, work is not worth it, cops are bad, etc.  It is cyclical.  You call it petty crime because it's only $10 here and there.  Well that's not the point.

CallSaul wrote on August 08, 2017 at 10:08 am

You whining about ad hominem attacks is rich, given that I can't even refer to the cowardly and vile attacks you've made against me because the NG will delete the comment for the mere reference to your cowardly attacks.

But anyway...

You're citing a study from the 60s...?

What will you bring up next, phrenology?


The Bell Curve...?


CommonSenseless wrote on August 08, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I noticed, even through your redundancy, you haven't cited anything more current that refutes the theory...Maybe a little less whining on your part about hyperbolic history and a little more on topic statements about current events and you won't get deleted.

It is really comical to listen to a militant leftist regurgitate scientific theories that were once thought of as mainstream and widely consented, that are now rather defunct, as some sort of insult.  I wonder if your offspring will be using anthropogenic climate change in a similar fashion.  Assuming you haven't been sterilized...

Sterilization, like Margaret Sanger (a leftist)??, that kind of sterilization?  If only those options were more available to your mother...

and Charles Murray is a leftist.  


Now run along and go sputter about Trump somewhere else, and quit following me around the comments like a lost dog.



CallSaul wrote on August 08, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Okay. Well, then.

Of course, I was responding because you directly mentioned me in the previous comment, but whatever. 

You're actually right: replying to you and expecting anything but weird insults, much projections and long debunked RWNJ delusional talking points is clearly not realistic.

Murray a leftist...?

Global warming a hoax...? Do you, like Trump, blame the Chinese...?

I suppose you also peddle the verkafte rightwing delusion that the nazis were actually somehow secret leftists, huh...?

Anyway, back to your clumsy dogwhistling about generational crime and the MTD like a good 'alt rightist'... wrote on August 08, 2017 at 9:08 pm

Saulie    go ask your family members who are cops what they think.

pattsi wrote on August 11, 2017 at 6:08 am

Reflecting on personal experiences--living on a main Champaign street that has no street lights, my locked car was vandalized by a good size piece of concrete being thrown through the window. So it is not always the car that is unlocked. The take aways are that you will be finding car window glass inside the car forever and do not leave your garage door opener in the car when parked for the night.

Second my abode was burglarized, as many have been. This was duly reported to the police and posted on Nextdoor. The Champaign police took a report. When the police were recontacted with additional information that might help catch the "doer," there never has been a follow up by the police to gather the additional information even though name and contact information was provided. Very disappointing in both situations. I share this because these scenarios are not unusual in this community, unfortunately.