Sunday, November 9, 2014

A "Smashing" Day: Thinking Beyond Traditional MUT Safety

Trail runners are used to paying attention to personal safety: checking maps, checking weather conditions, packing extra food and gear, letting others know where you are going, etc. But one area of safety we might not think about much is that of our cars.

Because I live in a fairly isolated area of town and I like to run with people, I drive to my run about 90% of the time. In fact this has been a typical morning routine for me for the past six years. (I shower at work which is downtown so this doesn't add any extra driving to my day). Every day, I grab my car key and leave everything else behind: gym bag, packed food and even my purse, which I "hide" under the seat or other bags. I've never had a problem until this past Friday.

Friday morning, I drove to a local gym at 5:30 am to meet a friend for a run. I left my car in the parking lot, right under the light pole and in plain sight of the front desk. When I returned at 6:50, gym employees were standing by my car. "Someone just busted your window," they informed me. At first glance, everything seemed ok: Gym bag on the seat on top of a pile of work papers, clothes hanging on the door, food bag in the foot well, plus a bag to take to the Goodwill. But when I looked under the bags, my purse was gone.
Hey! There's glass on my Ultrarunner Magazine!
In total, the cash, purse, wallet, and a gift card had an estimated value of about $250; the window cost $100 to replace; and a new driver's license was $26.50. Not a small loss but not the end of the world. The thieves got a $35 tank of gas before I could get my credit card cancelled, but there was no major spending spree or ATM withdrawal. I would blow this off as one big nuisance, except that wasn't the end of the story.

At 7:20am, someone rang our doorbell forcefully and repeatedly. My kids - with naive optimism and excitement to see what was going on - ran to the entry hall. A man in a hoodie was peering in the window and took off running as soon as he saw the kids. My husband - deciding it would be more couth to answer the door with a shirt on - lagged behind and arrived at the door just in time to see two men speeding off in a silver Honda Element with an Oregon "O" on the back. He couldn't see the plates. Fortunately, these guys were looking for an empty house and were not interested in a tussle, but still this chilled me to the core: this little break-in wasn't just a nuisance, it potentially put my entire family in jeopardy!
At least they didn't take the squash from my back seat!
Anyway, I know bad people do bad shit, and I should not beat myself up as the victim, but at the same time, I know I have been pretty unconcerned about break-ins and a bit too cavalier about my car when I go for a run. The Salem Police department notes that auto break-ins are usually at their highest in October through December, both because of increased darkness and because of the proximity of the holidays (as the officer told me: thieves want to have nice holidays, too). Salem has actually been having a string of break-ins at different gyms around the city. Unlike people going to the super market, people going to the gym often leave their purse or wallet behind. I know of several people who have had break-ins at trail heads and the same logic applies: people going for hikes don't take their lap tops and purses with them.

So here are a few common sense reminders of things to do to lessen your chance of a break-in.

-Lock your doors. This seems like a "duh" kind of thing, but of the 1.85 million auto outbreak-ins each year, it is estimated that 25% of them occur in unlocked cars. It can take less than 60 seconds to rummage your whole car, so even if you are just going in for coffee or dropping off a library book, lock the doors. Close up the windows and sunroof, too.

-Set the alarm. If you have a car alarm, set it. The alarm draws attention to your car and may scare off potential thieves.

-Don't leave anything visible in your car.  Even if your possessions are "not valuable", if a thief sees a lot of stuff they are more likely to break in, hoping they will find something of value stashed amongst everything.  Not to mention your "not valuable" stuff can actually cost a lot to replace. A few years ago, I had a clothing bag stolen from a race. At first, I didn't think it was that big of a deal because it was just clothes, but when I thought about the cost of the shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen, sweats, shirt, capris, and backpack, it was easily over $200 dollars worth of stuff.

Keeping things out of sight may be tougher for trail runners since many drive SUV's and hatchbacks without a concealed trunk area. Consider getting a cover for the back area or at least get a large opaque container (like a storage bin).

- Keep loose change out of sight. When I was going to medical school at Temple University in North Philadelphia, we were warned that cars had been broken into just to steal a few coins off of the console. If people are desperate enough, even a buck or two can seem like a score.

- Don't use the console, under the seat, or glove compartment as hiding places. The police officer told me thieves know that women commonly put their purse under their seats to "hide" them, but from certain angles parts of the purse may still be visible. I suspect I did a poor hiding job Friday morning and that perhaps the strap was sticking out. Parking in well lit areas is a good idea, but in my case, it probably made it easier to see into my car. The console and unlocked glove compartments are also commonly searched. Use the trunk instead.

- If you don't need it, leave it at home. Wallets, purses and backpacks often end up being a bit of a storage locker. My purse contained memberships cards, a gift card I had no immediate plans for, a USB drive, laser pointer and a few other things that I didn't need on a daily basis. I know at least two people who have had lap tops taken from their cars while they were running. I know this gets tough, because busy people are often on the go and want everything they need with them at all times. If you are just going to the gym or for a run, put your driver's license, a credit card and maybe a few bucks in pouch or small baggie and leave everything else at home. If you do have to take stuff with you, again make sure it is locked in your trunk.

- Stow before you go. Don't wait till you get to your destination to hide your stuff or put in the trunk, do it before you leave your house so no one sees you stashing your valuables.

-In the gym is safer than your car. If you are headed to the gym, take all your valuables with you. Even in an unlocked locker, they are safer in the gym than in your car. Better yet, get a lock!

Getting back from a run to find your car window smashed in will completely ruin any runner's high you had going on. Take a couple extra minutes to diminish your chances of a break-in, because canceling credit cards, visiting the DMV, repairing your car and changing all the locks on your house is a really shitty way to spend your day.
Enjoying my Friday afternoon at the Salem DMV - ugh!


Anonymous said...

My boss once told me that when you leave your car parked for a long time, make sure there are no valuables and to leave your car unlocked. That way, the would-be thieves won't have to break your window to get inside. Of course, this only works if you don't leave any valuables in your car.

Heidi Nicole said...

I've had a car broken into for its stereo system. It had a sweet set up and the thieves ripped the car apart getting all the custom wiring sucked, a lot. The paperwork was insane.

But the real kicker was they broke the back window of a two seater car [ie: teeny, tiny window] and crawled in to unlock the driver's door and steal everything...when the passenger's side door was UNlocked as the lock was broken. Idiots.

Anonymous said...

Let's bring capital punishment into the picture. I have no moral or ethical issues with shooting to kill if I were to see someone trying to break into my house, and my car is just an extension to my house. If we don't get to shoot them ourselves, let's have Uncle Sam handle it.

As callous as that may sound, these cretin serve no purpose to society, and if you subscribe to the theory that small crimes lead to larger ones (hey, I had fun and wasn't caught, so let's try something bigger next), then killing these scumbags would lead to the betterment of humanity.

We should not have to cower in fear or worry about the security of our possessions when we are freely moving about in the public sphere.

Really sorry to hear about the break-in. The exact same thing happened to a coworker at a local health club, and I know plenty of other folks who have had break-ins at trailheads.