Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | March 19, 2003

Prevention and a pound of cure

“He who does not prevent a crime when he can, encourages it.” ~ Roman playwright Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Back in the days when I was a reporter for the Morgan Hill Times, one of my duties was to review the daily police activity logs. These logs included an entry for every call made to the Morgan Hill Police Department. One of the things I noticed right away is how many people make it easy for criminals to steal from them.

Purses placed in shopping carts are a prime example of giving a criminal an easy opportunity to commit a crime. Yet, no matter what type of store I’m visiting, if the retailer offers shopping carts, without fail I will see at least one shopper with a purse parked in a cart’s child seat.

For a brief time, I used to stop such shoppers and say something like, “You know, I read the police logs at work and I can’t tell you how many times purses are stolen out of shopping carts. I’d hold on to it if I were you.”

This friendly word of advice was usually met with a withering “mind your own business” stare.

So I would wheel away, and the shopper would return to comparing yogurt prices, with her purse blasting “steal me” to any criminal with half a brain. It takes a lot less time to nonchalantly pluck a purse from the cart of a distracted shopper than it takes to settle a rowdy toddler or decide between hickory-smoked or maple-flavored bacon.

I’ve stopped offering unsolicited wisdom to my fellow shoppers, but it still amazes me how many women are making themselves vulnerable to the hassles that come from the theft of a purse. Not only do you lose cash, calendar, checkbook and key ring, but you also lose time. Just think of the time a stolen purse victim will spend calling credit card companies, obtaining a new driver’s license, social security, health insurance, library and Costco cards, and having the locks on her home changed, not to mention the very real possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft.

It’s not much fun, and it’s so easily prevented.

Another invitation to criminals is the unlocked car. I don’t know why any petty thief would go to the fuss – and risk – of breaking a window or jimmying a lock when so many drivers can’t be bothered to lock car doors and close windows. The number of people who leave valuables – wallets, purses, luggage, laptops, cellular phones, CDs, etc., sitting in plain view in automobiles is stunning.

Yet, despite the temptations left inside them, these cars are frequently left unattended and unlocked. Often, the victim thinks “it’s just for a minute” while he runs into a store or the house for a quick errand.

You’ll be gone longer than you think, and your neighborhood criminal – yes, we have them here in South Valley – is faster than you realize.

Anyone who’s ever watched a detective movie knows a criminal needs three things to commit a crime: motive, means and opportunity. Take away the opportunity and you’ve greatly reduced your chances of becoming a crime victim.

In these days of terror alerts, looming war and economic crisis, preventing petty crime might be a low priority. But it takes such little effort to prevent these types of crimes, and the hassle of becoming a victim is so great, that I will follow Seneca’s advice and urge you to hold onto your purse, hide your valuables and lock your car.

If it works, you’ll never know it. And that’s the whole idea.


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