Owner apathy over car break-ins frustrates police

NANAIMO – Police spend hours catching crooks, but few victims are reporting the crimes.

Police are spending the time and resources to catch culprits, but victims often fail to report minor crimes.

It’s a phenomenon that has vexed Nanaimo Mounties in recent weeks.

In an incident in August involving more than a dozen cars broken into in north Nanaimo, Cpl. Dean Muir, a police dog handler, spent hours tracking down and catching two suspects with stolen items.

Police managed to link several stolen items to vehicles, and with more than a dozen vehicles suspected of being rifled through, Muir expected there would be several phone calls from vehicle owners reporting thefts. Those calls never materialized.

“If we catch these guys with the property, but we don’t have any report of anything we can’t do anything about it,” said Muir. “We can’t go and charge them for something that hasn’t been reported.”

A similar incident happened in Nanaimo’s College Heights neighbourhood Sept. 15 at around 3 a.m. when a resident heard a bang, came outside, spotted a suspect and called police. Again, multiple cars had been rifled through.

Police failed to catch any suspects in this instance since the thieves’ trail ended abruptly, possibly because they hopped on bicycles or got into a car and drove off.

“Multiple vehicles were gone through, but the only people who came forward are the ones where we actually went and knocked on their doors,” Muir said.

Rather than physically smash into cars, thieves will often just check for car doors left unlocked. Most thefts from vehicles, in fact, are from unlocked cars.

Thieves grab sunglasses, GPS units, spare change or anything they can convert to quick cash or trade for drugs. Muir said the items might be small, but it all adds up and unreported thefts only allow the problem to continue.

“Most registered owners are of the belief they are being a nuisance and are only generating additional work for the police if they report something minor such as thefts of sunglasses, CDs or small change,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, in an e-mail.

“Often they think nothing will ever happen and it’s a compete waste of time and police resources.”

O’Brien said it only takes a few minutes to report break-ins. Police need to hear from victims so criminal analysts can accurately plot and track suspects’ movements and have additional resources, such as plain clothes officers or bait cars, assigned to affected areas.