Police warn Ashlanders to lock up their vehicles

Before Sharon Hicks moved to Ashland four years ago, she lived in a city of nearly 200,000, and she always locked her doors and her car. After joining her parents in Ashland, though, she felt safe lowering her guard.

"We all have always just left our keys in our car and our car doors open," she said. "You know, we live in Ashland."

Someone broke into all three of her family's cars a few weeks ago, however, along with several more cars in the neighborhood. Now not only have they stopped leaving their keys in the car, but they have installed a motion sensor and started locking their front door as well.

Car break-ins, especially those with unlocked doors, are one of the most common crimes in Ashland, according to police. In 2007, police received 111 reports of theft or attempted theft. In the last two weeks, 13 people reported break-ins, most of whom left their cars unlocked. Police also arrested one man last week for a string of residential and car burglaries, including several smashed car windows and thefts along Meadow Drive.

"Probably our biggest theft problem in the city is stuff from unlocked vehicles," said Police Chief Terry Holderness. "If you're going to go out and break into someone's house, you're generally going to think about it ahead of time. Cars are more of a theft of opportunity."

Creating opportunities

Because so many people seem to leave their doors unlocked, Ashland has gained a reputation with crime rings up and down the coast.

"People create opportunities, and we have a lot of people passing through town," Holderness said.

D'Mietra Johnson recently moved back to Ashland from Sedro-Woolley, Wash., and although her car has been broken into before, she still leaves her doors at home unlocked. She said Ashlanders seem to be more carefree.

"I think it's pretty lax compared to Washington," she said. "In Washington, you lock up everything everywhere you go."

Tim Chess, who has been in Ashland six years, said Ashland seems safer in general than the bigger cities he grew up in, with less emphasis placed on locking up.

"We're certainly more relaxed about it here," he said. "Most of the time if the car's home, we'll leave it unlocked."

Links to identity theft

Although police have not studied the trend in Ashland, nationwide statistics show victims of car break-ins are more likely to be a victim of another, related crime, Holderness said, a phenomenon known as re-victimization.

Identity theft is one of the most common related crimes, especially if it appears nothing has been stolen.

"People will go into a car and just the copy the information and later use that for identity theft," Holderness said.

To lessen the odds of becoming a victim, Holderness recommends not leaving anything valuable in cars, including any paperwork with personal information.

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