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Officers hand out free locks; car thefts spike on campus


By Holly Wells
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 3, 2005
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Police are handing out 300 free steering wheel locks and giving the campus community tips for preventing theft as part of their anti-theft awareness month.

Last year there were 1,168 thefts on campus, including 417 bike thefts and 63 vehicle thefts, according to police reports.

The University of Arizona Police Department is hoping to bring that number down by handing out locks, having bike registration drives and educating students on prevention tips for identity theft, personal item theft, bike theft and car theft, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, UAPD spokesman.

UAPD will be handing out 100 free steering wheel locks to people who come to the department and show they have registered with the Arizona Auto Theft Authority for the Watch Your Car Program.

Participants who sign up as a member of the program will receive a decal to put on their front or rear vehicle windows. If a police officer sees a vehicle with the decal on it driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. they can pull the car over and verify the driver is the rightful owner of the car.

Police will distribute the first 100 locks to program members before deciding how to distribute the other 200 locks, Mejia said.

UAPD also sells bike locks for $13 and steering wheel locks for $10.

Journalism junior Garrick Akridge said he has never had anything stolen on campus and said he does not take any precautions to prevent theft because he's not worried about it.

But students should be concerned about theft because property crime is the biggest problem on campus, Mejia said, adding that students and staff can help reduce the opportunity for theft by taking extra precautions.

"The tools are out there to combat theft," he said. "The community has the power to reduce theft crimes dramatically."

And Arizona residents are the most prone to being victims of car theft.

In 2003, Arizona was the No. 1 state for vehicle theft per capita with Tucson ranking second in the most vehicles stolen at 6,359 thefts. There were 25,651 vehicles stolen in Phoenix, according to the Arizona Auto Theft Authority Web site.

This year, from August to September, there were 19 vehicles stolen from campus, according to UAPD records. Last year during this same time period there were 10 vehicles stolen.

It is hard to know why there has been a spike in car theft, but such increases can often be attributed to thieves who target a certain area for a period of time, Mejia said.

Parking in well-lighted areas, not leaving your items unattended and being aware of suspicious people are activities that can reduce theft, Mejia said.

Stolen vehicles are often used to facilitate other criminal activities such as identity theft, drug trafficking and burglaries, Mejia said.

"A steering wheel lock almost guarantees that an auto theft will not occur," Mejia said. "Our goal is to see a steering wheel lock on every car in our community."

Undeclared freshman Theresa Dougherty said she always worries about theft on campus.

"I don't walk away from the bag, and when I'm at the Rec Center I always use a lock," she said.

Dougherty said even though she sometimes drives between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. she would still sign up for the Watch Your Car Program as an extra precaution.

Once officers pull a person over with the decal and see the owner of the car is driving, they will say "have a good night" and walk away, said Officer Frank Romero, head of the Residence Hall Liaison program.

Romero said there will also be several bike registration drives at residence halls around campus throughout the month and said officers will be handing out pamphlets and hanging up flyers with theft prevention tips.

Students and UA staff can enroll in the Watch Your Car Program by filling out an application online at http://www.azwatchyourcar.com or calling the AATA at 1-888-NO-THIEF.



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