Crime numbers have dropped significantly in Tempe over the last decade, according to Tempe Police Department data, and Arizona Mills mall — once one of the worst areas of the city for auto theft and other crime – has worked hard to fix its own safety status.
The city of Tempe had a decrease in all crimes — including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — by 41 percent over the last decade. In particular, vehicle theft dropped from 3,215 vehicles stolen in 2001 to 550 in 2011, according to statistics available on the Tempe police website.
In 2006, Arizona Mills mall had about 100 vehicles stolen per month, said Tempe officer Richard Fairclough who patrols the area regularly. Last year, Arizona Mills accounted for 24 of Tempe’s city-wide total.
“Tempe’s approach to reduce auto theft numbers has included education campaigns, neighborhood, multi-housing and mall focus, a fusion of operations with technology, and information-sharing with other law enforcement agencies to thwart organized auto theft syndicates,” said Molly Enright, public information officer for the Tempe Police Department.
To enhance the security of shoppers’ vehicles and deter crime, the mall provides an operating camera system that runs 24 hours a day, along with 35 to 40 security guards on vehicle, foot and bike patrols.
“The first use of force is officer presence,” Fairclough said.
According to Fairclough and fellow officer Richard Laux, the average vehicle thief can pop the lock of a car and drive off in about 15 seconds. This makes it hard to tell, even in brood daylight, whether the person entering the vehicle is the owner or not, resulting in most thieves getting away, Laux said. Laux, like Fairclough, frequently patrols the Arizona Mills area, located between Baseline Road and the US 60 and Interstate 10 and Priest Drive.
The afternoon in daylight hours is the most common time for cars to be broken into, according to the officers, along with right around typical dinner time, when most people aren’t in the parking lot.
Two vehicle types in particular that continue to be targeted are Honda Civics and Honda Accords. According to Laux and Fairclough, the two models are still the most commonly broken into vehicles because of their ease to get started, while also providing a relatively easy lock to be popped. The officers noted that many of the models — especially older model years — lack a computer chip that is necessary to start the ignition in newer automobiles.
Ford F-250 and F-350 trucks were also a target for vehicle thieves at one time, they said, adding that the trucks would be stolen then potentially used to smuggle people or drugs across the border before being destroyed; that trend is slowly dying down, they said.
There are reasonable actions vehicle owners can take to help prevent their car from being stolen, Laux said.
“Clubs are probably the best defense against car theft,” he said.
Steering wheel lock devices like the Club are relatively common, Laux said, and cost between $25 and $50 each. Laux said such devices are more effective than alarms, noting that car alarms will go off about 15 times per day in the mall parking lot, yet few pay attention because they’re so common and easy to accidently set off. Fairclough said he has never taken a report on a stolen car that had a steering wheel lock, like a Club, on it.
The officers and the shopping center also count on citizens to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior. The officers said that most of the thefts caught were because of a citizen call in to authorities.
“We count on citizens to be our partners in preventing crime.” Enright said. “Don’t make it easy for thieves to take your vehicle in the first place. Our crime prevention unit offers some common sense tips that can help you avoid becoming a victim.”
These tips include always locking car doors, keeping garages closed, purchasing a steering wheel device, not leaving valuables visible in a vehicle and etching an ID number for the vehicle on the window glass trim.
Vehicle return rates vary depending on the reason for theft, Fairclough added. Most vehicles stolen for the purpose of smuggling are not usually recovered because they are burned to get rid of the evidence, he said.
Cars stolen for joy rides, however, are often found with damage, while others are taken for the sole purpose of the vehicle’s parts. Those are sometimes found, but often stripped to a shell, Fairclough said.
More information on Tempe’s crime statistics, the city’s crime analysis unit, and various safety tips can be found online at evtnow.com/363.