Coronavirus in DC Area

Spike in Car Break-ins in DC Area During Stay-at-Home Orders

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The Washington, D.C., region has suffered a surge of car break-ins during the monthslong stay-at-home order.

The News4 I-Team collected and analyzed police reports in the District and seven suburban counties. The review found large increases in thefts from cars between mid-March and late-May in most communities, in some cases an increase of up to 50 percent. 

In some of the cases, thieves stole money, phone cords and bags. The I-Team review also found cases in which hand sanitizer and homemade masks were taken.

“I came out to my car to go to the grocery store for a cookout and I saw everything was taken,” said Saba Tshibaka, whose car was targeted outside her home in Northeast D.C.  Tshibaka said the theft occurred while she was inside her house. She said the thief stole sealed packages with dozens of homemade masks.

“I hope they realized it is masks and they distributed them out to their communities,” Tshibaka said.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the I-Team collected March, April and May police reports in D.C, Prince William County, Fairfax County, Arlington County, Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. The I-Team’s analysis of the data shows increases up to 50 percent in thefts from autos in all of the suburban communities.

Thefts from autos were down slightly in the District, though car thefts have increased during the emergency orders.

Pepi Becker suffered an overnight theft from her car in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“Every compartment had been ransacked and emptied out,” Becker said.

Becker has been home around the clock with a new baby but said a crook targeted her car in the driveway outside.

Gaithersburg police spokesman Dan Lane said cars are especially vulnerable in larger communities with open air parking lots.

“If it’s a townhouse or apartment complex, people don’t know whose car belongs to who,” Lane said. “People can’t keep an eye on it so much.”

Leaders of the Prince George’s County police’s WAVE auto theft unit said some people have become less vigilant about locking their cars during the stay-at-home order. The department said it has seen a series of thefts from cars that were left unlocked during daytime hours outside homes.

AAA says leaving your car parked for extended periods of time can lead to other issues as well.  The group offers these car care tips for longer-than-expected parked vehicles:

  • Battery Boost. Start your vehicle every couple of days to keep the battery at a full state and prevent deterioration. Let the engine run for a few minutes to recharge, then turn it off. If you have one, consider using a Battery Tender or other maintenance-type battery charger. The Battery Tender would remain connected to the stored vehicle.
  • Tire Pressure. Add 10 psi of pressure (more than usual) to each tire to prevent flat spots from forming on the tires. This occurs when the area of the tire touching the ground becomes rigid due to sitting in one position for an extended period. You can also move the vehicle periodically.
  • Windshield Wiper Placement. Prop up the wiper arms so the blades are off the windshield and won’t get stuck to the glass.
  • No Parking Brake. Don’t use the parking brake when storing the vehicle. The brake could become frozen, and the brake pads could rust to the rotors, or brake shoes could distort the drums. With an automatic transmission, simply place the vehicle in park. If the car has a manual transmission, put it in first or reverse gear and use wheel chocks to help hold the vehicle in place.
  • Sun Shade. If your car is always outdoors and exposed to the sun, use a sun shade. This will help prevent the sun’s UV rays from deteriorating your dashboard and steering wheel. 

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.

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