Alarms vary in ability to deter theft

By Laura Ingalls

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The familiar "whoop" of false car alarms is an annoying side effect some campus car owners endure to protect their vehicles from theft.

The number of campus car thefts has risen about 56 percent in the last two years, with 20 more thefts to date than last year's total. Car thefts declined slightly before 1993.

The increase in car thefts has coincided with more campus car owners equipping their automobiles with alarms, said Harry R. Hueston II, University of Arizona deputy police chief.

However, many of them are overly sensitive, sounding at the slightest vibration or touch. These alarms only become a nuisance to ignore.

The large used car parts market, a rise in gang activity and Tucson's proximity to the Mexican border are behind the recent increase in car thefts, said Tucson Police Department Sgt. Bob Torres, supervisor of the auto theft division. Tucson has experienced a 100 percent increase in car thefts in the last four years, he said.

Of the top 10 types of cars stolen in Southern Arizona, 90 percent are General Motors vehicles, often Buick Regals, Oldsmobile Cutlasses and Monte Carlos made betwen 1982 and 1989. These cars are largely in demand by the auto parts market, Torres said.

Frankie Ho, an electrical engineering junior, discovered his 1983 Buick Regal was a favorite among car thieves when his car was stolen from a university parking lot late August. The $2,500 car was recovered in Phoenix about a week later, but suffered irreparable damage to its transmission and interior, he said.

The nearby Mexican border also creates an unusually high demand for trucks, especially four-wheel drive Ford, Jeep Cherokee and Dodge varieties. In Mexico and Central America, these trucks blend in, unlike some brands which are not widely available in these areas.

"Their (American brands) mere presence there is evident that something's up," Torres said.

Protection systems that disable the ignition system are better than those with alarms only, said Ed Barry, manager of Progressive Concepts, a Tucson auto security accessory store. Car owners should also look for an alarm that activates on impact, such as a window breaking, rather than one with motion detectors which tend to false alarm, he said.

"The more sensitively set the alarm system, the more prone it will be to false alarms," he said.

Mike Becko, sales manager at O'Rielly Chevrolet, advises that car owners invest in a quality alarm that disables the ignition system.

"If you go out and buy a $99 alarm the thief probably knows more about it than you do," Becko said.

Most people pay between $150

to $600 for car alarms, Barry said. A car owner should expect to pay from $300 to $500 for a decent alarm, Barry said.

A vehicle tracking system which uses implanted computer chips is available in large cities like New York and Los Angeles for a hefty price, one system costing $500 for initial installation and a $30 monthly monitor fee, Barry said. The chip emits a signal through a satellite to a directional indicator installed in police cars.

Whichever alarm is chosen, owners should have it installed by a professional alarm specialist instead of a novice, he said. A professional can ensure the alarm's circuits are hidden, making them less accessible to a professional car thief.

While Tucson police largely ignore car alarm reports, university police investigate alarms when someone calls about the noise, Hueston said.

Campus police try to locate the owner of the alarm, sometimes with little success. However, the alarms normally are ignored until they disrupt classrooms or individuals. Alarm owners are usually advised to get their alarm readjusted so they cannot be charged with disturbing the peace.

"I think the original idea for car alarms to deter crime is a good idea, but our problem is that there's just so many that now it's become no big deal," Hueston said.

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