There’s some inevitability in property crime such as The Daily News covered in a front-page story Monday.
The story focused on the theft of bicycles, but that’s just a subset of a larger body of common “petty” crimes that vex people in every city to varying degrees.
The paper could have added vehicle burglaries, thefts of things like lawnmowers and power tools from people’s garages and furniture from their backyards and decks.
The paper in the past has even written about East End residents being plagued by the theft of potted plants off their front porches, which was among the odder examples. Is there a market for hot geraniums?
The paper wrote once years ago about a rash of thefts of small statues, angels and the like, from cemeteries in the city, which, in an ironic twist, were sometimes turning up as decorations in East End backyards.
There are ways for residents to battle those sorts of crimes, some of which is just to do what the police always recommend — secure your bike with a good lock, lock your car when you leave, don’t leave things like cell phones and tablet computers visible in a car, lock your garage doors.
It’s also good to record serial numbers of things that are easily stolen and to register the serial numbers of bicycles with the city. Doing so gives the police at least an outside chance of recovering your property.
None of this, nor all of it applied universally, would eradicate property crime, of course, because there’s no overestimating how dedicated people can be to stealing or how much work some are willing to invest in theft.
The paper wrote once about a man who got up one morning to go to work and found the transmission had been stolen from his minivan while it was parked overnight in his driveway.
It takes talent, dedication and skill to do that in a couple of hours in the middle of night. Anybody who could pull it off could make an honest living, just didn’t want to.
But while there’s some inevitability in property crime, one thing residents shouldn’t do is just accept it as completely so.
It’s a stubborn problem, but not intractable, according to numerous case studies.
The University of California at Berkeley Police Department, for example, reduced property crime by 24 percent in part by using “bait bikes” to help catch bike thieves. The University of Texas Medical Branch has a similar program.
There’s a whole range of other tactics that have been successful in other places. The city of Liverpool, England, put locked gates on alleys and issued codes to restrict access to residents alone, for example, a method that The National Institute of Justice rated as effective.
The same was true for a juvenile diversion program tested in Michigan. Under the program, teens charged with delinquency and petty crimes were sentenced to community service, which was effective in reducing property crimes, according to the institute.
One thing that all these creative methods have in common is that they came about because residents, taxpayers, voters demanded that the government try something new to reduce the instances of property crime.
It might be that nothing would change even if people demanded property crime prevention and policing became a higher priority. That’s certain, however, if people just accept the problem as inevitable.
• Michael A. Smith