PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Facing an increase in auto burglaries just three months into the year, the Santa Monica Police Department is warning residents about keeping their vehicles safe from criminal activity.

“Our goal is to take this comprehensive approach and lower that number by not only beefing up patrol and adding resources dedicated to lowering the number of auto burglaries, but also educating the community to protect themselves from becoming victims,” said SMPD Sgt. Renaldi Thruston, the community relations and crime prevention coordinator.

The department reports an increase in auto thefts this year after seeing incidents drop by 26 percent in 2008.

Thruston said the department is planning on examining which sections of the city are being targeted the most and directing resources to those areas. The Neighborhood Resource Officers, which were established under the department’s new community policing model, are also expected to dispense information to residents on crime prevention.

“It’s a full campaign involving everyone from the community to the police department,” Thruston said.

The rise in auto burglaries reflects a current national trend, police said.

The department advises residents to keep their valuables out of view in their vehicle, instead storing items in the trunk before arriving at a location where someone might be watching.

Authorities also said that car windows and doors must be locked at all times, even if the driver is away from the vehicle for a short period.

“An open door or window allows a thief a quick and quiet way to steal your property,” a SMPD public bulletin stated. “When the window is only slightly open, it also makes the thief’s job easier.”

Vehicles with Global Positioning System devices, airbags and stereos are also more likely to be hit.

Thruston said that airbags are desirable targets because some body shops will go to the “black market” to purchase them instead of paying the going rate.

Police also advise residents to park in well-lit areas where the vehicle is easily visible and be wary of suspicious individuals who are wandering around and looking into cars.

One of the most recent victims was Jeanne Dodson, a Wilshire-Montana resident who was notified by a neighbor about three weeks ago that someone had broken into her car.

“It was right when we had those torrential downpours,” Dodson, who is also the chairwoman of the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition, said. “They broke my windows and it was pouring down rain.”

She spent approximately $1,500 to repair damages to the vehicle, which entailed replacing the broken windows, and fixing locks that were ripped out of the car and trunk. Dodson said she believes a crowbar was used. Nothing was stolen from her car, which was already empty.

Dodson said she was following much of the rules suggested by the police department.

“I hope I don’t get victimized twice,” she said.

melodyh@smdp.com

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