It’s 4am Sunday Night – Do You Know Where Your Car Is?
Most car thefts are a ‘crime of opportunity’ – a door left unlocked, a spare key left in the center console, or a valuable left in plain sight.
In the darkened parking lot an intruder goes unnoticed, walking silently between rows of cars, sometimes stopping to shine a small pen light through a window, or to jiggle a handle. At four in the morning everyone at the retirement community is asleep. Most staff have gone home, and only a handful of people on campus are awake on the night shift.
Cars like the family's C class made before 2014 are unlikely to have built-in tracking. Mercedes "mbrace" is advertised as a way to create a 'driving journal' that can be reviewed after "Jr." borrows the car. Or, maybe track an amateur thief?
The handle on the 2012 Mercedes C250 pops open the driver’s door. Gingerly the thief cracks the door wider – waiting for an alarm to sound. Nothing happens. He open the door just wide enough to turn off the interior lights - no sense advertising his location in the parking lot. A minute or two later, the ignition successfully bypassed and he’s ready to start the car.
One last check to make sure the coast is clear and the street leading out of the complex is empty; the Mercedes quietly and slowly glides out the main gate like a ghost leaving a graveyard. The car won’t be missed until Tuesday, almost 36 hours after it has been stolen.
Illustration: NICB.org - Labor Day weekend is in the top 5 holidays for car theft, and California is the hands down winner for highest number of thefts per year. The family's Mercedes was stolen the weekend after Labor Day.
The phone calls start immediately. To the police, to the insurance company and to family members. A search starts – could the car have been parked somewhere else on campus? The car has a Tile location tracking device inside. It can help find a car in a parking lot, for example, or anything that has a tracker 'tile' attached. The Tile representative on the phone quickly provides a link and phone number that the police can call once they have generated a case number.
The police, without saying as much, seem to agree with the ‘skeptical’ younger generation of family members watching events unfold. The twenty and thirty-somethings share the opinion that the car is long gone. "Over the border into Mexico by now," one says, "In a chop shop in Los Angeles," says another. The highest vote total is for: "It's inside a shipping container in Long Beach headed for a country in Eastern Europe." Everyone, apparently, has seen the Nick Cage "Gone In 60 Seconds" remake.
Every car has a story to tell. The trips to Los Angeles to see grandchildren, to San Francisco for a get-away, or just to and from the favorite restaurant in town (pre pandemic).
In this part of the county the Sheriff's office has jurisdiction. The Public Information Officer, Raquel Zick admits that the statistics aren't very good for recovery. She notes that the numbers suggest that the communities that are on the edges of the city's northern and southern sides have the highest theft rates. "Our largest uptick in crime right now is catalytic converter theft, especially from cars with higher ground clearance that makes it easier to get under the car." She also notes that keeping the doors locked and valuables out of sight is the best way to deter crimes of opportunity.
It’s just a car, but like all cars it has a very personal history for the owners and the family. The thief doesn't know, nor care. It may be gone but it will be replaced, and the specific memories made with that well-loved car will never be erased. Not by a thief in the night, not by the passage of time.