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Writing down serial numbers will help police return stolen items to you — if they turn up, Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.
Thieves recently made off with Dana Dean's purse in less time than it took the woman to grab a cup of joe.
Dean, who ran into an east Vancouver Starbucks Coffee with her cellphone and debit card on her way to work, thought her purse would be safe on the seat in her locked car. After all, she wouldn't be gone more than five minutes. She was wrong.
"I know better," she said last week. "I almost always take my purse (with me)."
Dean's situation is one example of what police say is a growing problem in Vancouver: smash-and-grab auto prowls.
Auto prowl cases are beyond the normal range for this time of year, especially on the east side of town, said Kim Kapp, Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman. The problem, which is usually at its highest during the holiday shopping season, had more than double the cases in August and September of this year compared with the same months last year, she said. There were 62 cases reported between Oct. 1 and 9 of this year, compared with 73 total cases reported in October 2011.
"It's starting to become pretty significant numbers," Kapp said.
Vandals are looking for valuables — purses, backpacks, laptops, electronics and smartphones — left inside cars parked at restaurants, day care centers, shopping malls, apartment complexes and in the occasional residential neighborhood. Reported cases are spread throughout the day and night, although daytime break-ins tend to be more popular in east Vancouver, according to police data.
"It's always shocking people would leave that kind of valuable property in their car," Kapp said.
She suggests people not use cars to store valuables. If it can't be avoided, she says it's a good idea to store items in the trunk before you leave for your destination. That way, thieves at your destination don't see you storing your valuables.
"There's no excuse to leave your purse on the front seat of the car," Kapp said.
Police and Neighbors on Watch volunteers are aware of the growing problem and will keep an eye on parking lots, Kapp said. But "it can be difficult to target enforcement when you don't know when and where it's going to happen," she said.
Dean, the Vancouver woman who had her purse stolen, is using her story to teach others. She says people should be aware of their surroundings and never leave valuables in the car.
"Even if you're going in for a few minutes, take everything with you," she said.
She's trying to get her financial records and accounts back in order after losing her driver's license, wallet and other valuable information. Some things, such as a pair of earrings her daughter gave her, can't be replaced.
"It's just too bad that people have to do that," she said.