In the City of Charleston, South Carolina, we have seen a steady increase in the number of firearms stolen from motor vehicles since 2015. While the number of firearms being placed on the streets of Charleston should be concerning to all citizens, the most concerning aspect to this crime is the number of firearms taken out of unlocked vehicles. When you include through November in 2019 which has had 169 firearms stolen (102 from unlocked vehicles, 60%), over half of the firearms stolen were from unlocked vehicles. Since determining whether the vehicle was unlocked or not is based upon the reporting of the victim, I suspect this percentage to be much higher. We have also seen a large number of unlocked vehicles being stolen many of which had the keys inside. As a patrol commander for a number of years, I have tried many strategies to reduce the number of vehicles being left unlocked with little to no success.
|Firearms Stolen from Motor Vehicles|
|Stolen||Unlocked||% of Unlocked|
When I happened upon Lieutenant Jason Potts’ article on how he reduced thefts from motor vehicles by 40% in Vallejo, California, I was intrigued. Potts conducted an experiment by introducing deterrence strategies such as increasing officer presence, using bait devices, making implied threats of apprehension through media outlets (social and print), focusing efforts of targeted areas, and increasing awareness of the crimes through a “HideItLockItTakeIt” campaign. Seeing that the problem is not local to Charleston, I recalled several posts on our social media platforms using a similar campaign called the #9PMRoutine. I found that during a period at the end of April and through the end of May in 2018, CPD made 13 posts about the #9PMRoutine. The month of May 2018 showed a sizeable decrease 25% reduction from 2017 in thefts from motor vehicles. Although the reduction is meaningful and the adjacent months showed increases, other factors could be contributing and the #9PMRoutine deserves a closer look.
I created a random schedule of posts over 26 weeks spanning from November 2018 – May 2019. The number of posts each week was randomly selected between 0 and 3 and the day of the week was also randomly selected. The posts varied in style (photos, texts, and graphics), but all were posted to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Over 1400 incident reports for thefts from motor vehicles and motor vehicle thefts were divided into three time periods: Comparison, Pre-Treatment, and Treatment and each was reviewed to determine certain characteristics about each crime to include reviewing the narrative to determine whether the vehicle was unlocked, forced entry, keys were left in vehicles and for any firearms stolen. Incidents of the complainant not knowing if the vehicle was locked and no signs of forced entry were counted as unlocked. While there was not much to discern from daily, weekly, or monthly breakdown of the data, the overall totals do provide a bit of insight to the #9PMRoutine.
|% Change of Treatment to Comparison|
|Motor Vehicle Thefts||179||177||151||-16%|
|ATV, Golf Carts, Mopeds||52||54||27||-48%|
|Theft from Motor Vehicles||287||357||282||-2%|
|Overall Incident Totals||466||534||433||-7%|
Before looking at the notable outcomes of the Treatment group, it should be noted that many of the incident types and sub-categories, especially Thefts from Motor Vehicles, significantly increased in the six months prior to the #9PMRoutine starting. When comparing the Treatment vs. Comparison group, overall there was a 7% reduction in the number of Motor Vehicle and Thefts from Motor Vehicle incidents. There was a 9% reduction in the thefts from unlocked motor vehicles and a noticeable 27% reduction in the number of unlocked vehicles stolen. Almost astonishingly, during the treatment period only seven incidents were reported where an unlocked vehicle was stolen without the keys inside. The largest decrease was the number of ATVs, golf carts, moped stolen. With the sizeable decreases in sub-categories of motor vehicle thefts, yet only a 16% reduction of overall vehicle thefts, a question is raised to how vehicles are currently being stolen. The largest increase was the number of instances of forced entry to steal items from a vehicle. From the original goal of hoping to reduce the number of firearms stolen, there appears to be no change while having the #9PMRoutine campaign in place. However, there was an increase in firearms being stolen from locked vehicles, from eight to fourteen, so citizens may be locking vehicles more frequently, but not removing their firearms.
In conclusion, the #9PMRoutine does work and appears to be a worthwhile campaign for agencies to adopt. Although it may require some creativity, the time spent developing and making these posts are certainly more efficient than the amount of time required to respond, document, and investigate even one of these crimes. By locking vehicle doors, securing valuables, and making it a routine, citizens can have a positive impact on crime in the neighborhoods. CPD has continued with making regular posts and will explore other ways to get this message out to those that may be visiting our wonderful city.
Lieutenant Jason Bruder, Charleston (SC) Police Department