By Drive Zim Road Assistance
Earlier this week a young lady was attacked by a thug wielding an axe when he stopped in her car to buy airtime. Luckily she managed to lock his doors and drive away with a smashed rear passenger window.
Crime and criminal activity require motorists alertness and caution to more than only other vehicles. Even though progress has been made in fighting hijackings and vehicle theft, there has been an increase in theft from vehicles. Many of these are what can be defined as “Smash-and-Grab”.
We would like to discuss the crime of smash-and-grab in more detail and offer recommendations to motorists on preventing this sudden invasion of privacy and likely loss of possessions.
What is a smash-and-grab crime?
A smash-and-grab criminal turns a pleasant drive into a nightmare when criminals are pouncing on unsuspecting drivers. The criminal act is usually characterized by smashing through some sort of barrier (e.g. vehicle window) while the car is stationary at traffic lights or stuck in slow-moving traffic and grabbing something of value (e.g. jackets, handbags, laptops, etc).
A smash-and-grab usually play on the element of speed and surprise -The violent smashing of the window at the passenger side places the motorist in a few moments of silent paralysis – just enough to get hold of the valuables and flee the scene! These car burglaries can be expensive, from the cost of repairs to the vehicle and windows to replacing your belongings. The victims will most likely be traumatized and feel victimized for quite some time.
What is being targeted?
The thieves are usually after valuables that they can easily identify from outside the vehicle and sell as easily once removed from the possession of the motorists. Items targeted include:
- Purses, handbags and wallets
- Laptop bags, briefcases and backpacks
- Shopping bags
- Cell phones, MP3 players and tablets
- Loose change and CDs
Where are drivers most at risk and what are the methods used?
We find in the media mentions and warnings of so-called “Hot spots”. Even without warning signs, the cautious driver would be able to identify areas where he/ she would be most at risk. These tend to be places where criminals know that vehicles will be stationary, where drivers can be easily distracted and where the criminal can make a quick and effective escape.
Who is most vulnerable?
- The victims are most often single drivers with belongings on the passenger seat.
- Criminals tend to focus on female drivers well knowing that they are less likely to chase after them.
- Drivers who are distracted are most vulnerable – those busy on the cellular phone or with a cigarette in the hand.
- Vehicles left unattended away from the crowds and with valuables visible are easy targets for a quick smash-and-grab.
Methods used and Modus Operandi
- Criminals will focus on those areas where they know traffic is often congested and where vehicles will remain stationary for a while.
- These criminals also will often work in pairs where one will pose as a vendor, distracting the attention of the driver while the other party will perform the smash-and-grab from the passenger side.
- Objects are sometimes placed on the road and motorists make the mistake of leaving their vehicles to remove these objects. This is when the vehicles are then easily targeted.
- Communication technology such as cellular phones has also enabled these criminals to identify potential victims from a bridge or position of elevation and to relay this message to their partners in crime further along the road.
- The person making the smash-and-grab will most likely select the scene of the crime as an area where a fast getaway would be possible for him and any pursuit would be difficult.
Advice on preventing smash-and-grabs
Even though it is not always possible to avoid the so-called “hotspots” where these criminals prey on unsuspecting motorists, it is possible to reduce the risk of becoming a smash-and-grab victim. Motorists can make these burglaries more difficult. Smash-and-grab car burglars don’t want difficult challenges and would rather prefer to move on when they suspect hurdles to the swift execution of these crimes.
We would like to advise the following measures:
- Lock all your doors and close the windows when driving – Never open vehicle windows or doors for strangers.
- Avoid opening your windows or getting involved in discussions with street vendors or anyone handing out flyers.
- Be constantly on the lookout for suspicious-looking characters.
- Always be conscious of your surroundings and remain alert when coming to an intersection or stopping your vehicle.
- Be wary of people standing at intersections – They may be innocent but perpetrators mix with these people while waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
- If you encounter obstacles such as rocks or tyres do not get out of your vehicle to remove them -immediately reverse and drive off in the opposite direction.
- If it’s late at night, slow down well in advance so that the light changes green by the time you reach the intersection.
- Leave a gap between you and the car in front of you to give you room to escape (i.e. drive away from the scene), if anything should happen.
- Be especially wary whenever you see broken glass lying on the road. If the pieces of glass are still scattered across the road, chances are that a smash-and-grab occurred just recently.
Taking Away the Attraction
- Reduce the chances of becoming a target by removing that which the criminals are trying to get their hands on.
- Smash-and-grab car burglars aren’t exactly criminal masterminds. Many simply act on impulse.
- Don’t have bags, cellular phones, briefcases or other valuables visible inside the vehicle – valuables only attract thieves who may break your car window.
- Hide your valuables. – Car floors, dashboards and seats are not good places to leave items.
- If you can’t take valuable items with you, hide them out of sight in your trunk.
Safety when Parking
- Thieves target car parks. Always park your car in attended parking lots.
- When parking at night ensures that you always park in a well-lit area.
- Keep your car visible. Thieves do not want witnesses – You can help prevent a smash-and-grab by parking your car in crowded areas near pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
- Never sit in your vehicle without being conscious of your surroundings.
- Lock your doors and roll up your windows when you park
- Activate your security system
- Consider window tinting.
- Avoid using the console or glove box as mobile lockboxes
- Don’t hand a car burglar your keys. Leaving your key on the dash or in the ignition is an invitation to a burglar. And keep in mind that if you have a great hiding place for a spare key (in your wheel well or above your sun visor), a thief has thought of it, too.
- Stow your belongings like shopping bags and laptops in the trunk before you get to the parking area.
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| B TOM|
Sales & Marketing Director
Drive Zimbabwe Roadside Assistance