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August 16, 2017
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Trend in car smash and grabs significantly rises

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
July 21, 2017

Car smash and grabs are on the rise this year throughout Rohnert Park, with a gargantuan jump from only 11 incidents last year, to around 47 this year, according to a data query report provided by the Public Safety Department, prompting Chief Brian Masterson to urge citizens the importance of keeping valuables out of a car even if it is locked and secure.

According to the same data obtained through the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety, this surge in smash and grabs is akin to a 327 percent increase, which are mainly taking place in parking lots or garages.

Most instances of car break in and thefts occur in the Rohnert Park Public Safety Beat Two, which comprises of the retail side of town west of Highway 101, where 38 of the 58 total recorded instances occurred, according to the data compiled.

When asked if this recent spike could be due in part to the Graton Rancheria Casino, which is also west of Highway 101 on Redwood Drive and has been a frequent concern of Rohnert Park citizens, Masterson said the public safety department doesn’t usually look at crime data based on trends of a specific crime or call and that it would be difficult to tell if these crimes were consequent of the casino.

“A lot of people ask if the casino is adding crime to Rohnert Park, but we don’t break crime down to a certain shopping center or place. There’s really no empirical data saying the smash and grabs are increasing from the casino… We have to interview all people who were arrested there to tell,” Masterson said. 

While there isn’t a definitive reason as to why this spike has occurred, Masterson did say that criminals are fueled with confidence when they have success in multiple thefts and will continue to target that certain location.

“Crooks are like fishermen. They develop a sweet spot of where they like to go… and they look for hotspots. And then certain criminals just do car thefts, some do residential burglaries, all have different things they like to do. And if they have success then they will have confidence and they’ll feel comfortable in doing that (specific crime),” Masterson said.   

The majority of these thefts are occurring in mall parking lots or garages, which may be surprising for a relatively small town, where crimes like these usually arise in larger cities such as San Francisco, where up to 70 car break ins occur each day, according to an article reported in “The Atlantic” in 2016.

However, Masterson said this could happen anywhere if crooks are given the opportunity and see something they want that they don’t have.

“People can be in a hurry and sometimes leave things in the car. If they (crooks) don’t have it, then they want it. It’s even worse if the car is unlocked, if you leave something of value in it, they’ll see it and they’ll steal it. It happens really quickly and it is just an inconvenience for people — you have a smashed window and lost value,” Masterson said.

One such example of this theft, provided by dataset examples compiled by Detective John Kempf, who also compiled the data in the report, described an incident where multiple items were stolen from the victim’s car.

“On May 27 and May 28 between the hours of 12 and 9 a.m., left car parked at Applebee’s and took Uber home. The next day car windows were smashed… passport and checks were taken,” the report says.

While this crime hasn’t happened to him, Rohnert Park resident Austin Bregante said smash and grabs have happened to friends of his in the area.

“It hasn’t happened to me, but it did happen to my roommate’s girlfriend. I think it (the crime) goes more towards specific cars, higher end cars. For example, she had a Subaru,” Bregante said.

In response to the rise of these thefts, Masterson stressed the importance of never leaving anything of value in your car, even if it seems of insignificant value to you, it could hold value to others.

“Don’t ever leave anything of value in the car, sunglasses, loose change, an iPhone or anything of value since it is a crime of opportunity” he said.

Bregante said he never leaves anything in his car and takes “personal responsibility” for his things.

“I don’t bring anything with me in my car, because I am usually pretty OCD about putting everything in my car away,” Bregante said.

Masterson also urged citizens to be on the lookout and report any suspicious activity around cars and to take extra safety precautions.

“We ask people if they see anyone who is looking around in the window of a car or anyone who sees anything to call it in and we can come out to see and ask the person what is going on,” Masterson said. “Car alarms are also a good deterrent, also parking in as well as lit area as possible. If it is predictable then it is preventable.”