A recent rash of thefts from vehicles has Westerville police reminding residents to lock their car doors and keep their valuables out of site, or better yet, out of their cars.
"What we like people to understand is, they can prevent these things because one of the three legs of crime is opportunity, and if you don't leave items in plain view, you take away some of the opportunity," said Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer.
Westerville, along with other central Ohio communities, have seen an uptick in thefts from motor vehicles, Morbitzer said.
In 90 percent of cases, those who are victimized have left their cars unlocked or left valuables in plain sight, Morbitzer said.
Entering an unlocked car is a no-brainer for thieves because it carries little risk, Morbitzer said. Breaking into a car carries a heavier risk for thieves, he said, but that risk can be outweighed by the value of an object they can spot, like a laptop computer or a purse.
"Criminals look for the quickest and easiest opportunity. If I have to break a window, it's an impediment -- unless I can see an object in plain sight. Then I've got to weigh: Is the laptop on that seat worth it?" Morbitzer said.
"Most criminals just walking by cars in parking lot, if they don't see anything in plain sight, they're not going to risk it."
Morbitzer said police also are asking residents to keep their eyes open for anyone in an area who seems suspicious and to call police in those instances.
"If people are in the area legitimately, there's no problem with that," he said. "Word gets around pretty quick in the criminal community that the neighbors watch and will call police."
Morbitzer said police in central Ohio have been working together on reducing the number of thefts from vehicles.
In some cases, police know there is an organized criminal element responsible for the thefts. But in other cases, it's individuals, often juveniles, Morbitzer said.
Police believe many of the thefts are drug related, he said.
"There are organized groups going around the region looking for areas of opportunity, looking for large parking lots with lots of vehicles," he said. "This is a multi-fronted battle we're fighting."
There have been more thefts from vehicles on the south side of the city, but the problem has been seen just about everywhere in recent months, Morbitzer said.
"There have been thefts all over the city, and it's not just a Westerville thing -- it's a regional theme. Genoa and Delaware County are having the same issues," he said.
Police are stepping up their patrols, particularly in areas their software shows thieves are likely to strike, Morbitzer said.
The hope is that police and residents can work together to stop the trend.
"This is about partnering with the citizens and providing educational opportunities," Morbitzer said. "We've just got to be vigilant when it comes to this."