How thieves target vehicles to break into; tips to keep your belongings safe

Vehicle break-ins are common in Hawaii.

You come back to your car, notice the window is smashed or the door lock is broken, and your heart drops.

You frantically search for what’s missing. It can cost you time and money, and in many cases, the stolen items are never recovered.

According to the Honolulu Police Department’s CrimeMapping feature, just in the last week, there were more than 100 cases of vehicles being broken into or stolen on Oahu.

In Part 1 of our series, we told you about auto thefts — what vehicles are stolen the most and how to protect your ride. Now, in Part 2, we’ll focus on auto break-ins, how crooks often choose the cars they break into, and how to protect your family’s belongings from getting stolen.

Since 2011, there have been more than 41,000 car break-ins on Oahu alone — that amounts to about 20 a day.

“It’s an inconvenience when this happens to the car owner, but these thieves don’t look at it that way. For them, it’s just a crime of opportunity,” said Wendell Takata, a retired HPD officer who worked as a detective for the auto theft detail.

HPD says most car break-ins are in Downtown Honolulu or Chinatown, the Windward side, and in the Pearl City, Waipahu, and Aiea areas.

Thieves like to strike in places where you often let your guard down.

“Shopping centers, because it’s a high volume area, and townhouse or condo areas because of the volume of cars in the area, tend to be a favorite location for thieves,” Takata said.

There are also beach parks and hiking spots.

So how do crooks pick which vehicles to break into? Lots of times, it’s simply by looking into your car.

“Often times they may leave something valuable that’s visible from the person walking by,” Takata said.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a gym bag with dirty clothes in it. If it looks like it could have something of value, thieves will take their chances.

In fact, recently, someone broke into a car near the Diamond Head Lighthouse, and stole a backpack that contained a loved one’s ashes.

So don’t leave anything — bags, packages, even a few dollar bills — in plain view.

“You’re just giving the person a reason to get into your car,” Takata said.

Getting an alarm for your car can help, especially if it has a feature that alerts you by phone, email or text when someone breaks into your car.

“Now, some of them have silent pagers, so it’ll alert you and not alert the neighbors or general public,” Takata said.

Unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle is a class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro says fingerprints or DNA can help lead to a suspect but it doesn’t always end with a conviction.

“Some don’t even result in charges, because we have to prove when they entered the vehicles. We have to prove they entered the vehicles with the intent of committing a crime therein,” Kaneshiro said.

He says if items were taken or moved around, that can help in proving intent. But he also adds, even if the suspects are convicted, they often get probation instead of prison time.

“There’s no punishment or consequences to that crime. Whether it’s a felony or not, you have to have consequences and putting someone on probation isn’t a consequence,” Kaneshiro said.

He wants to see that changed, but in the meantime, it helps prosecutors and police if there’s a good witness.

So if you see someone acting suspicious around a vehicle, HPD says call 911. Don’t approach the person. Remember or jot down information, like what the person looks like, what he or she is wearing, and where he or she went afterward.

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