Lock your doors and don't leave anything valuable inside -- that's the message the Mountain View Police Department is sending out to city residents after receiving more than 300 reports of auto burglary in 2016. Most of the thefts are reported out of some of the city's busiest and most bustling parking lots, and thieves frequently nab more than $400 in personal belongings in the heist.
Police received 342 reports of auto burglary in Mountain View in 2016, which is down from the 475 reports last year but remains higher than the historic average going back to 2010, according to the department's crime statistics. Despite the overall decrease from 2015, some parking lots got hit unusually hard by thieves over the last year.
Far and away, the biggest hotspots for auto burglaries are in parking lots near Highway 101 along the northern end of Rengstorff Avenue. The Charleston Plaza shopping center, combined with the Costco and In-N-Out Burger parking lots next to the freeway entrance, had 89 reported cases of auto burglary in 2016. Other locations rife with theft include the downtown parking lots (66 cases) the San Antonio Shopping Center (22 cases) and the Century Cinema 16 parking lots (20 cases).
Part of the problem is that people are leaving valuable belongings in their cars, or are leaving their cars unlocked, said police spokeswoman Katie Nelson. More often than not, auto burglaries are crimes of opportunity, meaning thieves will make the decision to grab something from a parked car in the spur of the moment, making it all the more important to leave anything expensive out of sight.
The potential for theft is particularly high during the cold winter months, Nelson said, because residents might decide to wait for their car to heat up and leave it unattended with the keys in the ignition.
"People will turn on their cars and go back inside before they leave, and that's never a good idea," she said. "We haven't had any cars stolen because of that yet this season, but it's opening up access to the car."
Although reports of auto burglary are up, that doesn't necessary mean each case involves the theft of personal belongings, Nelson said. It could be that the culprit entered the vehicle and quickly searched through the contents, or grabbed loose change. In other cases, it's the theft of an iPhone, laptop or other expensive digital device that was left inside. Historically, a little over half of reported auto burglaries in Mountain View include the theft of at least $400 in belongings.
It's no surprise that the Costco and In-N-Out parking lots are big targets for auto burglary, Nelson said, because of the close proximity to Highway 101 and the fact that they are both bustling and constantly busy.
"Thieves are looking for easy access, and they're looking for a high likelihood of finding something. They think these parking lots are the places to go," she said.
Police are advising residents to remember to roll up windows and lock their cars when they park -- even if it's in a driveway or garage -- and park in well-lit areas whenever possible. Valuable belongings including wallets, cell phones, laptops and personal paperwork should be either stored in the trunk ahead of time or carried out with the driver, or at least kept out of sight when the car is unattended.