When I first moved to Chestnut Hill in 1997, I lived in an apartment on Willow Grove Avenue that had an off-street parking lot. One morning as I was heading to my old ’87 Mazda 626, I noticed that my driver’s side door was open.


When I got to my car I looked around. Nothing was gone – never kept anything in it anyway – but The Club I attached to my steering wheel every morning was lying on the passenger seat.


I sat down in the driver’s seat and looked at the steering wheel. There was a clean-cut slice taken out of the top of the wheel, right at the 12 o’clock position.


I went to work and called the police. I felt lucky – like the club had actually done its job. The police agreed. Whoever sawed off The Club had spent too much time on the job and had to give up for some reason – sunrise, maybe? Or another car coming into the lot?


I was thinking about that again when I heard about last week’s meeting with police at the Chestnut Hill Library to discuss concerns about property crimes in the neighborhood. It was a problem in ‘97, and it’s a problem still.


A leaflet at the meeting likened auto thieves to window shoppers. And with all the laptops, iPods and smart phones stolen each week, it’s a good simile. Chestnut Hill is a virtual Best Buy for local looters.


So far this year, police said there have been 44 thefts from autos in PSA4 (the section of the 14th Police District that includes Chestnut Hill) with stolen property estimated at more than $18,000.


That’s a lot of window-shopping.


Police apparently nabbed several suspects in auto thefts last week, including one Matthew Johnson who was captured during a police stakeout of the neighborhood. Johnson was trying to make off with an iPod he had snagged from a brand new Beamer on Winston Road.


So what’s the problem? Is auto security not strong enough? Do we need better car alarms? Or is it something else?


I’ve written about it before. The police have been quoted on it before as well. Dick Martin, the head of Chestnut Hill Town Watch, who collects the crime report for us every week, has often included an item about it. People need to stop leaving valuables in their cars.


It’s not so easy to steal a car. A 2011 Beamer has got to be tougher to swipe than my old ‘87 Mazda. But there’s nothing difficult about smashing a window to enter a car and make off with a nice new laptop or cell phone.


The police can continue to stake out Chestnut Hill streets at night. But it won’t make a difference as long as there is a steady supply of inventory in our street-parked cars, and we’ll continue to read each week about a half-dozen or more gadgets and pocketbooks poached from passenger seats.


Remember, when you leave a laptop on your seat, you’re just stocking the shelves. Do yourself a favor and take it inside with you. How hard is that?


Pete Mazzaccaro


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