Police unit, cadet program always on the prowl

Kent Police Public Education Specialists Sara Wood

Kent Police Public Education Specialists Sara Wood

Sara Wood feels like a “bad guy” when she peeks inside of vehicles at Kent parking lots.

But Wood, a Kent Police public education specialist, doesn’t look to steal items. She looks for items that others might take.

If Wood sees purses, cell phones, global positioning systems (GPS), gym bags or other items, she leaves a card on the windshield to let drivers know what she saw and with tips on how to prevent vehicle prowls.

Actually, she will even leave the card to let a driver know they did a good job if no items are in sight.

“We mark what we see or if the car was unlocked or windows were down,” said Wood as she joined co-worker Stacy Judd on an inspection last week of a downtown parking lot. “We’re trying to educate the driver.”

Two-member teams of the police education unit or the cadet program try to get out at least once a week to inspect vehicles.

“We go based on crime stats for the week to the hot spots where we see a lot of prowls,” Wood said.

Judd and Wood spotted a tool chest, shopping bags, and private documents (that can be used for identity theft) during their inspection.

“If they (prowlers) see cigarettes or coins, they’ll break in for something that small,” Wood said.

Thieves use a rock or some other object to break windows or break locks to quickly enter a vehicle.

Prowlers often hit the outdoor parking lots and the garage at the Kent Station shopping mall. Eighty-one vehicle prowls were reported at Kent Station from Jan. 1, 2007 through May of 2009.

Other hard-it parking lots include the Star Lake Park and Ride, 27015 26th Ave. S., with 29 cases; the Rock Creek Landing Apartments, 1024 Central Ave. N., with 28; the Kent-Des Moines Park and Ride, 23405 Military Road S., with 27; Lake Meridian Park, 14800 S.E. 272nd St., with 26; the James Street Park and Ride, 902 W. James St., with 23; and the Hawthorne Suites, 6329 South 212th St., with 22 cases.

Kent started the inspection and card program about a year ago. The idea came from a Kent officer after he found a card from the Puyallup Police on the windshield of his personal car.

“It’s a new approach to reduce vehicle prowls,” Wood said.

Vehicle prowls in Kent have dropped to 437 in the first five months of this year compared to 530 during the first five months of 2008. But a high-number of 29 prowls during the last week of May prompted police officials to get the word out to residents to help prevent vehicle prowls.

“We really stress to take your valuables out of your car every time,” Wood said.

Even if a driver leaves only the holder or mount for a GPS, prowlers break in because they expect to find the GPS in the vehicle, Wood said.

Kevin Bateman, a Kent Police officer, said groups of juveniles as well as people in their 20s and 30s are responsible for the vehicle prowls. Some thieves sell the items to support drug habits.

The Club, a device placed across the steering wheel to prevent auto theft, also works to deter prowlers. Kent Police sell the device for $15 to $20.

“They (prowlers) will see 10 other cars that don’t have The Club,” Bateman said. “And those who use The Club probably hide their valuables or take them out of the car.”

Buying a car alarm doesn’t do much good, Wood said, because people often don’t pay attention right away to the alarms that seem to go off so often.

If drivers place valuables in a vehicle trunk, they should do that before they reach the destination where they will park the car.

Police officials also encourage residents to report vehicle prowls. Police recently interviewed a man who confessed to 10 car prowls in Kent, but only two had been reported.

How to prevent vehicle prowls

• Remove all valuables

• Lock all doors

• Close all windows

• Park in well-lit locations

• Call 911 to report thefts

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