St Albans residents leave cars unlocked to avoid thieves breaking windows

Vehicle security

Vehicle security - Credit: Archant

While the police campaign repeatedly to deter car thieves, some St Albans residents are opening the door – literally – to such criminals.

St Albans Chief Inspector Shane O’Neill has been surprised at the tactics of locals, who believe leaving cars unlocked is preferable to securing their vehicles.

At a full district council meeting last Wednesday (7), he said: “What we found is that people are leaving their cars deliberately unlocked, because they’d rather have a few pounds worth of change stolen from their car and a sat nav, for example, than have their windows broken, and their cars damaged - that is a lot less aggro for them.”

CI O’Neill, who took over the responsibility for running local policing teams in May this year from incumbent Ken Townsend, was speaking about crime trends in the district.

He told councillors: “We are finding that more and more when we are speaking with victims of crime, they are aware these crimes are happening, so they are thinking, ‘What is the line of least resistance? I will leave my car unlocked.’ They will still report the crime of course, which we want them to do.”

CI O’Neill said that while there has been a decrease in home burglaries - a 23 per cent reduction from April 1 to December 6 this year - more motor vehicles are being stolen, with mopeds and motorbikes from sheds and garages being targeted.

He said: “We try and gather a lot of intelligence, about who might be committing these burglaries. I’ve noticed in St Albans that we have a lot of travelling criminals coming in.

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“Thefts from motor vehicles is proving quite a challenge. We are having criminals travelling in from Bedfordshire particularly using the train lines.

“We are working with British Transport Police to try and tackle that, putting in criminal behaviour orders to stop them actually using the trains, and from travelling into St Albans.”

But, he admitted, “once we put them before the courts, their powers are fairly limited” and repeat offenders tended to be locked up for a “few weeks then return to their previous activities”.

CI O’Neill said local policing priorities included being on the alert for possible terrorist attacks.

The police boss recalled being on duty in 1991, when IRA members were killed after a bomb exploded prematurely in St Albans.

He said: “It can happen here. So we must be very, very vigilant. That is a top priority for us. Other top priorities are child sex exploitation, hate crime, absent and missing persons, particularly vulnerable persons.

“What I have found is that policing in St Albans is complex. We focus on residential burglaries, robberies, and acquisitive crimes. But we need to look wider than that.”

About 900 incidents are reported to St Albans Police each month.

CI O’Neill said there has been a rise in the reporting of domestic abuse, which he said “shows confidence in the police to deal with it”.