OPP warns Islanders of the dangers of unlocked vehicles in Lock It or Lose It

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MINDEMOYA – Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers patrolling in Mindemoya set off a storm of comments on social media last Tuesday, November 23 as they checked for unlocked vehicles in the Foodland parking lot. It’s part of an annual Lock It or Lose It educational campaign and with a recent increase in mischief and thefts especially in Mindemoya, it was a mostly welcome event.

“The positive thing is that it created a lot of discussion and is making people aware,” said Manitoulin OPP detachment Constable Tessa Kasch. During Lock It or Lose It, officers are in the community doing foot patrols checking vehicles in the neighbourhoods and parking lots. A brochure containing simple preventative tips to protect their vehicles and belongings was placed on windshields. The notice also indicated what safety precautions were neglected by the vehicle owner. “We cannot give someone a ticket for having an unlocked vehicle,” she said. “It’s not an offence.”

Thieves are looking for opportunities, Constable Kasch explained. “If your vehicle is locked, they will quickly move on to the next vehicle. They’re not going to spend time prying open your door.” She estimated that half of the vehicles checked at Foodland were left unlocked or there was a purse left behind on the front seat. 

“You have your valuables sitting right on the front seat. No valuables should be kept in your car. Lock up your valuables. Take them with you. Take them into your house. Your vehicle cannot be left unlocked and don’t leave your keys in the vehicle,” said Constable Kasch.

A number of seniors approached OPP officers during their vehicle checks at Foodland and asked what they were doing. “The seniors in our community aren’t necessarily on social media so they wouldn’t know,” she said. “We spoke with them about the recent thefts and mischiefs and that we’re trying to make sure everyone’s keeping everything locked. There was definitely something good that came out of Tuesday and that’s making sure our seniors are feeling safe and know what’s going on and know how to report things to us. That made it worth it.”

This type of crime doesn’t only happen on Manitoulin Island. Even in southern Ontario people leave their keys in the vehicle, which can easily lead to a stolen vehicle. “I get that the Island is small and you don’t want to think that crime happens here but crime happens everywhere,” warned Constable Kasch. “There are things we can do as a community, like locking our vehicles, locking our doors when we leave, and not keeping our valuables in our vehicles, that can deter the petty thefts within the community.”

As we’re heading into Christmas season and more people are out shopping, there’s going to be more valuables in vehicles as well as wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree at home. Remember that out of sight is generally out of mind. Put your valuables in your trunk or hide them underneath your seat. 

“Criminals aren’t going to spend a lot of time on something if it’s going to draw attention to themselves,” Constable Kasch added. “They want easy access, to be able to quickly open the door and walk away so they’re not seen. If you have your door locked and you have nothing visible they’re not going to pay attention to you.”

Police do want people to call and report suspicious activity, stressed Constable Kasch. “We’re here, we’re policing communities. Don’t hesitate to call us if you observe a suspicious vehicle at your neighbour’s house; maybe they’ve been away or something.” 

Constable Kasch finds people are afraid to call police because they think they’ll bother them. “They think we’re too busy but we want to know what’s going on. If you see suspicious activity like a vehicle, a car or someone scouting out a property, call us and tell us. Get as many descriptions as you can: of the person, of the car, a license plate. Do not hesitate to report things to us because we want to know. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t hesitate to report something that’s going on in your neighbourhood.”

Dial 9-1-1 if something is happening in the moment. OPP also have a non-emergency line, 1-888-310-1122. If there’s an actual theft a few days later, the OPP can go back and see they had a call about a suspicious vehicle in that area at that time, or a suspicious person. “We can tie things together,” she said. “It’s been done before and that’s why we need people to call and report these things.”